Permanent Travel – Georgia’s Restless Cinema Retrospective

In the last few years, Georgian cinema has been drawing increasing international attention and expectation, which may come as surprise given the size of the country and its complex recent political situation. Georgia is about to celebrate three decades of independence, and throughout its long existence it has been known for its physical, human and cultural diversity. Its geography and history, from the remote village to a dynamic diaspora, favoured both isolation and cosmopolitanism.

Discussing Georgian cinema means also discussing for most of its existence Soviet cinema. A minority of local Bolsheviks (among which a certain Iosef Jughashvili, better known by his Russian war name: Iosif Stalin) stands at the avant-garde of the integration of the country into the Soviet sphere, but the whole of Georgia takes part in this dynamics: polyglot, resourceful and outstanding within the Union, while at the same time culturally distinct and unbending. Its art, including cinema, soon becomes a thriving example of such exceptional nature.
Film-makers such as Nikoloz Shengelaia, Mikhail Kalatozov, Nutsa Gogoberidze and Kote Mikaberidze, in their inquiry of the history and paths taken by their country, in the modernity of the gesture and choices, took on the artistic avant-garde of their time. Stalinism put a stop to that energy, which Georgian cinema would retrieve in the late 1950s with a generation of film directors trained in Moscow: Abuladze, Chkheidze, Lana Gogoberidze, Iosseliani, Esadze, Kvirikadze, and brothers Eldar and Giorgi Shengelaia. In the following three decades, Georgian fiction, documentary and animation films would reflect upon the circumstances of a society divided between the opportunities and the boundaries presented by the empire. Another three decades—those of the young country’s independence—acknowledged how socially and artistically significant its cinema has traditionally been.
Over the course of ten days, we’re only able to cover a few of the works and paths of a film-making that is for the most part unknown in Portugal, where it has almost always been noticed in passing. We chose to select a greater number of films, sacrificing individual highlights. Certain absences (Chiaureli, Esakia, Daneliya, Mchedlidze) will be more noticed, but they all (especially in the case of contemporary productions) result from the limits of a broad selection from the historically rich output of Georgian studios.
This retrospective presents several films that were restored in the scope of the agreement established between Georgia and Russia to return the former’s cinematic heritage to Tbilisi. It is also an opportunity to signal the importance of each film we’ll be showing, when the poor state of the screening copies or its pure and simple unavailability narrow the possibilities of any programme. At the same time, the return journey underlines the travelling propensity of a cinema that is reflective in its nature, and whose discovery we hope may lead us to a more aware and deep relation with its history and present situation. Both restless.

– Marcelo Félix
Curator of the retrospective

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Deep Caucasus 1
22 OCT / 15.30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 88’

The Youth and the Leopard is a traditional Georgian poem that Mariam Kandelaki turns into images and sounds in this animated fresco, an expression of her country’s love for poetry. Caucasian Love narrates the ousting of a Muslim village by the Russian Empire in the Caucasus in 1846. Including anthology sequences, and admired by Eisenstein, it is one of the great Soviet films from the 1920s.

Caucasus and Revolution 1
22 OCT / 19:00 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 93’

Buba is a distant mountain village where the hardship of life goes hand in hand with the beauty of the place. The film only recently stepped out of a long oblivion. In Salt for Svanetia, the subject is similar, drawing a parallel between the basic needs and the traditions of a hostile region that the young Soviet power set itself to modernise.

The Challenge of Freedom 1
22 OCT / 21:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 111’

In Girl and Fountain, the heroine draws a new world and a special companion from a storm. Exponent of puppet animation in his country, Karlo Sulakauri (1924-2000) is a film-maker in need of discovery. In 1992 Tbilisi, shaken by the civil war, two friends, Eka and Natia, experience the anguish and the hopes of an adolescence lacking time.

Caucasus and Revolution 2
23 OCT / 15:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 100’

The conflicting reality of the Caucasus is a challenge for the new Soviet authority in Last Crusaders, a history of rivalry and reconciliation between Muslims and Christians. Vakhtang Shvelidze was the assistant director in that film. In Collective Farmer’s Hygiene, he tries to raise awareness among farm workers for new health and cleaning care.

The Challenge of Freedom 2
23 OCT / 19:00 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 95’

A painter and a street musician in the process of mutual inspiration and rapprochement. The Morning Romance is a school film that stages the survival of poetry in the tough everyday life during Georgia’s first independent years. With that time long gone, another generation, dreamy and pragmatic, faces its own challenges in When the Earth Seems to Be Light .

Vigorous Modernity 1
23 OCT / 21:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 126’

Little Jules joins the Paris Commune revolutionaries, and his presence—inseparable from a pipe—unexpectedly and dangerously earns him the spotlight. In My Grandmother,, a large and hugely inefficient government department is the habitat of a bureaucrat who is fired and tries to get his job back by having someone put in a good word for him.

Session for Families
24 OCT / 15:00 / Cinema São Jorge / 76’

Dancing a Georgian dance on a raft, letting oneself go in the spout of the fountain, protecting a cow named Chrela from evildoers, enjoying the summery evening under a lamp light, solving the mystery of the enchanted forest, facing the giant fish and bravely running from it: these are but a few of the activities put forward in this session of rather different—yet always stunning—master pieces of Georgian animation.

Vigorous Modernity 2
24 OCT / 19:00 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 85’
28 OCT / 19:00 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema

Abandoned, pregnant and antagonised by everyone, a villager takes shelter in the city, but her misfortune isn’t over. Christine is Georgia’s first feature-length fiction film, of which all that is left is a fascinating excerpt. Mzago and Gela are a young Khevsurian couple whose view of the world changes when the Revolution comes and they discover the big city.

The Challenge of Freedom 3
24 OCT / 21:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 115’

The poetic overcoming of solitude uplifts Fisherman and the Girl: with her fisherman father absent at sea, the daughter pictures him in trouble, fighting a fierce fish. In Corn Island, an Abkhazian grandfather and his granddaughter cultivate a temporary river island threatened by the tense military situation and the unpredictability of Nature. Grand Prize at Karlovy Vary.

Little Ocean
26 OCT / 19:00 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 119’

The (very) Black Sea is the friendly sea that bathes the shores of Georgia. In Pontos, dozens of children picture and talk about it. Kvirikadze’s film, in turn, tells the story of the decline of a family whose patriarch may have swam a tremendous distance in the Black Sea, but of which there’s no record. A film crew addresses that episode of the country’s submerged history.

On the Sidelines of The Future
26 OCT / 21:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 99’
29 OCT / 19:00 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema

In A Journey to Sopot, two outcasts with no other prospect than getting by day by day forge a brief and fragile comradeship. Nana Jorjadze’s graduation film was prohibited, and it was only cleared in 1987 when her Robinson Crusoe in Georgia conquered Cannes. The Last Ones is an ode to two isolated northern communities and their culture on the verge on disappearing.

Art Exposed 1
27 OCT / 15:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 104’

Framed by Parajanov’s look, Niko Pirosmani’s paintings (1862-1918) are organised by chapters that visit and intertwine his works. In Pirosmani, Giorgi Shengelaia addressed the dilemma between artistic integrity and political compromise in a very free and very thorough biopic. Another major painter, Avto Varazi, plays the main role.

Art Exposed 2
27 OCT / 19:00 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 94’

At war against the Nazis or living in peace in Kutaisi, sculptor Aguli Eristavi is only interested in his art and in the marble from Paros with which he shall make a grand piece. In the meanwhile, he piles up busts in the local graveyard where his talent is ever present. The film is a metaphor for the stalemate of a generation after the Khrushchev Thaw with a subtle tone of disenchantment the author would never lose in his biting analysis of Soviet society.

Caucasus in Songs
28 OCT / 15:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 123’

In Ra-Ni-Na, the main character’s nursery rhymes are corrected by every stranger he comes across with hilarious results. The film with which Iosseliani set himself to record the religious singing throughout his country is a visual tour fascinated with landscapes and faces, labour and bodies. In The Saplings, grandfather and grandson undertake a journey full of adventures in search of seeds from a given rare pear tree to be preserved like a song.

Progress of the Normal Everyday 1
28 OCT / 21:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 115’

A railway controller’s romantic encounter is disrupted by an odd appearance. In Kobakhidze’s films, subverted reality is subversive. In the film by Gogoberidze, a dedicated journalist, confident of the importance of her role, realises her family and society expect very little of her as a woman and a professional.

News of Violence
29 OCT / 21:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 123’

The Plague is born in unhealthy environments, changes souls and standardises wills and the landscape – the film triumphed at Cannes in 1984. In Bo-bo, a bomb dropped in some war becomes aware of the beauty of the world and the works of men. In House of Others, a couple and their son move into a deserted village under the apprehensive eye of another family. A painful tale about the insolvable disarray of both geography and beings after the war in Abkhazia.

Georgia on My Mind 1
30 OCT / 19:00 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 80’

New Year’s first visit brings luck to whomever invites him. Chokheli evokes this now abandoned tradition of his village in The First Foot. The Tower is a note on the absurd: it was the meeting point for the villagers of Ksuisi, and after the 2008 war with Russia it remained in Georgia, unlike the village. In I Swam Enguri, the director clandestinely travels to Sukhumi, her home town, which is now the capital of another country.

Progress of the Normal Everyday 2
29 OCT / 15:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 90’

The at-first-sight, continuous and unrequited love of an Azeri teenager for a Belorussian girl who is two years older than him. The production of the film was troubled, and the final version was banned, not for its sometimes eccentric tone and mild eroticism, or because its screenwriter had fallen in disgrace, but due to the quarrel between Esadze and a bureaucrat over a minor scene. An unusual work in need of rediscovery.

Deep Caucasus 3
30 OCT / 21:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 106’

Ugrekhelidze’s film is a reminder of the civil war in Abkhazia with Georgian residents on the run from Sukhumi, including many children, who are the protagonists of this collage animation. In Dede, (‘mother’ in Svan), the main character withstands the violence against women in the isolated region of Svanetia. Her options, however, are limited.

Deep Caucasus 4
31 OCT / 19:00 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 70’
Tariel Mklavadze is a violent and debauched prince who tries to seize a stranger regardless of the consequences or her husband. Three future major figures in Georgian cinema, directors Mikaberidze and Kalatozov and actress Nato Vachnadze, take part in this fascinating film, whose flashback narrative envelops the audience in a reflection on the plot, the characters and the author’s viewpoint.
Georgia on My Mind 2
31 OCT / 21:30 / Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema / 104’

With On the Road, Kobakhidze resumes his work, and says goodbye with an expectant look. In Golden Thread, an eighty-year-old writer has to share the house with a nostalgic Soviet civil servant while rekindling with an old lover. The film premiered in Tbilisi last December and looks into the feelings and reasons of a country looking for its destiny.