Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 23, 2021 5:12 pm 
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A film to love - or hate

Summary: In the Georgian riverside city of Kutaisi, summertime romance and World Cup fever are in the air. After a pair of chance encounters, pharmacist Lisa and soccer player Giorgi find their plans for a date undone when they both awaken magically transformed — with no way to recognize or contact each other. As the would-be couple tries to reunite, their eyes are opened to a whole new world filled with surprises in every cafe, courtyard, and cinema.

Enthusiasts for Koberdze's new film, a leap forward toward watchability since it's 150 minutes instead of 220 and was shot with real cameras instead of an outdated cell phone as was his 2017 first feature Let the Summer Never Come Again/Lass den Sommer nie wieder kommen, regard him as forging a new, hopeful path for world cinema, in short, something glorious. But though there are many beautiful things, his basic structure - if one can regard such a meandering film as having one - left me frustrated and even angry. I loved the soccer fan dogs; the slow-mo of boys and girls together playing ball that looks like a dance; the way of panning along to show portraits of ordinary young faces bathed in sunshine so we see their essential beauty; the sense conveyed of a peaceful, happy summer in contemporary Kutaisi, an ancient town in Georgia, where the pathway up to a school is ringed with small palms, pines, and bushes and the mood is embracing.

But now I am already running out of things. And the central love story of the lovers whose connection is almost-doomed by an evil spell, which is the film's ostensible anchor, is a frustration. If your'e going to enter into folk tale territory you need to play by certain rules of storytelling and rules of economy. Here the storyteller continually gets distracted and the story of the frustrated lovers winds up going nowhere in particular. And on top of that: all the trekking back and forth with the failing cafe-owner and to the carnival challenge on the bridge Georgi, the altered male "lover" is forced to run for that owner and we are forced to watch!

What came to mind as the impending two-and-a-half-hour runtime began to pall was the familiar writing motto, "Kill your darlings." This is the idea that in the interests of economy, meaning, and art, the artist must cut out elements that were appealing in themselves but don't really fit the final product. Koberidze appears to have frequently been reluctant to cut out details he thought were cool among his many random capturings - or those of his excellent cinematographer Faraz Fesharaki, who shoots here partially in digital and otherwise in "gloriously saturated 16mm stock," as Boyd Van Hoeij, his most eloquent eulogist, aptly calls it in his revirew of the film forHollywood Reporter.

We understand: that's why they're called "darlings." Yes, a lot of these images of summertime people in Kutaisi do look great. They are often suffused with a love of the town, a love of beauty, a love of people. But where's the movie? Has this director started out making any films where he doesn't break all the rules? Does he really think his narration can explain all and excuse all and make it all fit together? It doesn't. There is a lot of love for this film. Cinephiles need to watch it - at least if they subscribe to MUBI, who kindly gave me access to it. It is a festival darling and I would not have missed it. And like Manohla Dargis of the New York Times ("But I digress" is her apt subtitle), I may eventually realize that I like it, after all. But at this point while I have read the praise and understand it, Koberidze's film still seems to me unsatisfying.

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?/Ras vkhedavt, rodesac cas vukurebt?, 150 mins., was at the Berlinale (winning the FIPRESCI Prize there) and over thirty other festivals, including the NYFF, with six wins and 18 nominations, and was released theatrically (Lincoln Center) in NYC Nov. 12, 2021. (MUBI) Metacritic rating: 83%.

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