Monday, December 21, 2020

Movie with Abe: Beginning

Directed by Dea Kulumbegashvili
Release TBD

There is a safety that people feel in coming together in a space that can be pierced and irreversibly broken by an unwelcome intrusion. For many, that is their home, but there are also other places where people gather and consider a source of comfort and community. Natural disasters and accidents may result in their harm or destruction, but when an act is deliberate, there is a fear that can permeate previously familiar and positive associations. Rebuilding or relocating may not be sufficient to erase the trauma and the permanent feeling of unease that threatens to spread to other facets of a person’s life.

The Kingdom Hall of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Georgia is set on fire, and while those inside manage to escape, the damage has been done. Its leader, David (Rati Oneli), leaves to report what has happened as his wife, Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili), expresses anxiety about the potential repercussions. When a detective (Kakha Kintsurashvili) arrives to question her, she cooperates but then quickly becomes increasingly unnerved about the nature of his questions and the way in which he wields power over the defenseless woman whose house he has just entered.

This is an extremely unpleasant film, one that begins with a jarring act of violence and only worsens over the course of its 130-minute runtime. It is not easy to watch for multiple reasons, partly due to its content but also because of its monotonous pace, which often finds its lens centered on one spot for an extended amount of time before anyone enters the frame and something begins to happen. What does occur is disturbing and draining, making for an off-putting viewing experience.

There are elements of this film that are reminiscent of “The White Ribbon,” though that film takes a proactive approach to storytelling that is certainly not found here. This feels a lot like “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” in its onscreen representation of stark misery, a less than inviting perspective but one that does demonstrate artistry of a sort. Georgia’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature will surely draw considerable praise from those admiring its harsh realism, and audiences should be prepared for a harrowing and miserable ordeal. Assessing it as strong filmmaking requires a desire to watch such fare, which this reviewer doesn’t find overly worthwhile if left unaccompanied, as in this case, by a resounding message.


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