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Films from Georgia (Features) February 15, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Georgian Films.
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“Jacko’s Lodgers” Dato Janelidze Taia Group Production 1:22:23 │ 2008

Teimuraz and Margo used to be rich. They owned a land that employed workers; they were respectable; and they used to have a happy married life.

“Jacko’s Lodgers” begins when the couple were already stripped off their riches, and one of their former servants “comes to the rescue”, only to stomp on their shaky relationship even more. Jakho, who now runs the estate they used to own, invites them to live with him, seeing how poorly they manage at present. Teimuraz and Margo agree, the latter somewhat reluctant, and the set-up allows Jakho to accomplish his plans. Margo keeps mum when Jakho rapes her. When it happens again, Margo no longer struggles, almost to the point of submission, as he successfully takes Teimuraz’s land and wife, Teimuraz even attending Jakho and Margo’s wedding in the end.

Basically the film works on the premise of strong tradition, how men continue to dominate women to the point of owning them and treating them like slaves, revealed in the way Jakho treats his wives and workers. Jakho is a strong male figure—he’s a shameless animal, made clear when he rapes Margo while Teimuraz is just a few inches away, sleeping. His authority isn’t only coming from his misogyny; he treats everyone below him with condescension. Compared to the quiescent Teimuraz, who seems to love his land more than he loves his wife, Jakho is the clear and present evil, working his way bit by bit to get anything he wants. The interplay among the three characters is strong and nuanced, especially how the flashbacks are conveniently woven into the narrative. But if one is waiting for emotional reward, the film offers no comfort.

“Mediator” Dito Tsintsadze 1:34:55 2008

“Mediator” is a detective story but with less emphasis on the detective, or rather, a whodunit that answers the important questions but still remains a mystery. Before the dead man is revealed, he is first seen hooking up with a woman. He is nervous; he is keeping something that’s putting his life at stake. And that’s when the tension in the beginning makes sense—two men, a foreigner and a local, are taken as hostage—as he communicates with them the course of the plan. Everything meets in a theater in Tbilisi, the dead man and the hooker, the mediator and his ex-wife, the mediator’s two associates, and the killer. The detective tracks down the killer until the very last step, only to be stopped by the foreign agent, who threatens the life of the killer and his family. The players in the crime are known, but their motives, though something that can be inferred conventionally, remain vague.

Admirable is how the film unfolds with mild temper. Director Dito Tsintsadze, who also plays the killer, doesn’t get carried away and throw all the pieces in action; instead, while connecting them together, he also goes back to a blank canvas, particularly when the characters of the agent and the killer are introduced. There is this uncomfortable distance, as well as surprise in not knowing what these people have to do with the dead man’s murder, but the narrative becomes intense when their roles are known. The film puts in the basket a lot of characters and their pasts along the way—the mediator’s ex-wife who is now the detective’s lover, the killer who used to do dirty jobs for different governments, the killer’s wife who never knew about it until now, the dead man’s daughter whom he hasn’t seen for long years, the hooker’s ugly memories of her childhood—and when all these lines converge, it doesn’t feel in any way contrived; all the more they punctuate the film’s deeper motives behind the murky surface, which, like the diamonds that remain guiltless in the viewer’s eyes, represent an evil worse than any imagination can conjure.

“Three Houses” Zaza Urushadze 1:32:06 2008

The three stories that constitute “Three Houses” are set a century apart from each other. An old family house is the setting of the first story, photographed in the luscious background of country scenery, where an old man continues to believe that his deceased wife is still with him. His brother asks the help of his friend-psychiatrist to talk to him. The old man calls his wife but she never comes out, the old man saying that she is tired from painting all night. As they stay on, a painting of two owls piques the interest of the psychiatrist, which he later on accepts as a gift from the old man after he talks him out of helping him, saying that the psychiatrist is just following his brother’s wish to please himself. As the psychiatrist leaves with the painting, apologizing for his actions, the old man’s wife appears.

The palette changes and shifts to the Second World War. A woman and her son are driven to a house where they are escorted by a soldier. The woman is tense, asking her son not to come up unless she tells so. It’s a modest house where her husband and his mistress stay, and as the woman walks in, she is greeted by the mistress, tense and ashamed of herself. The dead body of her husband is in the other room, having died while the two were making out. The woman confronts the mistress, and is even hurt after knowing that her husband has been hanging onto the affair for seven years. The son comes up, is angered by the sight of his dead father, and points the gun to the mistress. The noise settles, and they all wait for the sun to set to bring the body down to the car and to their own house. The woman wishes that her husband, who is a Comrade General, had died in the war instead. She leaves with the “Two Owls” painting with her, asking the mistress to keep everything a secret.

Present-day Georgia. The painting finds its way on the hands of a rich man who refuses to sell it to the family of Aneta, the wife of the old man in the first story. Aneta’s great-granddaughter is leaving Tbilisi, after her father’s futile attempt to acquire the only painting left of their kin, and her boyfriend, a young man who is passionately in love with her, tries to steal it in the rich man’s house. He does so and gets caught; and surprised, he sees his own uncle with the rich man in bed. The three talk casually, and the owner gifts the young man the painting.

“Three Houses” is a journey that crosses centuries but the love that aches all throughout doesn’t feel any less different. The painting that connects everything provides a good hook, an interesting motif that implies the significance of sentimentality, the warm affection and attachment that transcend the three stories. The film is emotional but light—the actors outstandingly charming and wondrous—and reveals a rewarding experience from start to finish.

* With thanks to Teddy Co

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