Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 15, 2018 5:37 pm 
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Mad mom, or late-blooming genius writer?

Genius and madness are often linked, perhaps because genius is outside the norm. Plain folks may not understand it. When a brilliant writer approaches the surreal, who can follow? One of the accomplishments of Georgian director Ana Urushadze's debut feature is the way we remain unsure to the end of the middle-aged mother working on a troubling manuscript, expressing a long-repressed desire to write, has lost it, as her conventional husband says, or is creating a work of incomparable originality, as her friend the stationary store owner fervently believes.

Her husband says in the opening scene that his wife looks disheveled and worn out. Yes, she does, a bit; but throughout she is capable of maintaining an upright, elegant look as well. Urushadze maintains a nice level of clarity and a firm narrative line. Much credit is due also to Ramaz Ioseliani, the admirable actor playing Nukri, the stationary store owner, who not only champions Manana (Nato Murvanidze), but sets up a room for her in the back of his store as a retreat - and he has no ulterior motives. He really is trying to find Manana a publisher, and nurturing what he feels is an extraordinary new work of literature.

Anri (Dimitri Tatishvili), Manana's upright spouse, thinks what she has written is extreme pornography. So do some of the publishers who have looked at her 150 finished pages (she has to find an ending). But didn't they say that about Henry Miller and William Burroughs?

To us Manana may seem crazy at times, certainly. But isn't that because she is in the white heat of creative fervor?

Urushadze makes her film turn more and more into a thriller, a mystery, and a chase, admirably speeding up the tension. She introduces a fourth hand in the game: Jarji, Manana's father, who is translating the manuscript, without knowing yet that it is hers. He is played by the quite extraordinary Avtandil Makharadze, who builds up a maniacal energy of his own. Meanwhile Manana has three handsome children, two boys and a girl, all upright and fine. Where does her explosion of creative power come from? Jarji, no doubt.

The film was reviewed at Antalya Film Festival (competing) by Jessica Kiang in Variety She described the theme of Urushadze's "darkly daring debut" as " A middle-aged Georgian woman finds freedom, ferocity and freakiness in writing her first novel" and noted, "The vast, largely unmapped terrain of a middle-aged mom’s creative life gets a witchily weird, uncompromisingly assured showcase in Georgian director Ana Urushadze’s exhilaratingly offbeat oddity. [The film's] cerebral chilliness, emotional remove and narrative abstruseness might make it a hard sell in that context. . .this is nevertheless a startling debut that wholly earns its place as standard-bearer for one of the most exciting and distinctive national cinemas to have emerged in recent years." This is indeed a fresh and original and well-made film.

Scary Mother/Sashishi Deda, 107 mins.,debuted at Locarno, won a prize at Sarajevo, also at Atalya, and was, not surprisingly, Georgia's Best Foreign Oscar entry for 2018. Screened for this review as part of FSLC and MoMA's New Directors'/New Films series, March 2018.

ND/NF showtimes:
Saturday, March 31, 9:00pm [FSLC]
Monday, April 2, 6:00pm [MoMA]

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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