Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2022 6:03 pm 
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Georgian gambling, wrestling, singing, and togetherness make a rousing short story set in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach

Some interesting films have come out of Georgia recently. These include Alexandre Koberidze's What Do We See When We Look At The Sky?, Dea Kulumbegashvili's Beginning, and Salomé Jashi's unique documentary about transplanted trees, Taming the Garden. This one, Levan Koguashvili's Tribeca prize-winner Brighton 4th, is a men's story about gambling, family loyalty and love in circumstances that are poignant and sometimes absurd. Its focus is on the gambling and masculine theme collectively at first in a dry, amusing prologue set in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, of men watching two big English soccer teams on multiple screens in a room full of men sitting at tables, watching, and sipping beer.

In the room, a big man (Temur Gvalia) clashes with a younger one who is crazily overreacting, but the peacemaker is the one who gets evicted and turns out to have the greater right to be disturbed. Outside he talks to his brother, Kakhi (played by former Olympic champion wrestler Levan Tedaishvili), and reveals he has lost a big gift from America and his apartment betting on this game. The more anchored, non-gambling and non-smoking Kakhi in turn is soon to be on his way to America to be with his son, whose moodiness and insomnia turn out to be due to a big gambling debt of his own.

The rest of the film transpires in America. "Brighton" refers not to the English resort but to Brighton Beach, the Russian-speaking community in Brooklyn, where a shabby boarding house on the community's Fourth Street is run by Kakhi’s sister-in-law (Tsutsa Kapanadze). It is here that Soso (Giorgi Tabidze), the son, is living, and Kakhi, the father, bringing a suitcase full of hidden Georgian cheese, joins him to try to help.

This is a tale of the post-Soviet immigrant community where Russian is the lingua franca. Brighton, as seen through dp Phedon Papamichael's distinctive lens, is a place of drab winter colors and desolate beachside landscapes enlivened by the feisty community of Russian and Georgian residents who help each other. Soso, who is supposed to be studying for his medical license to practice in America, has his uncle's gambling bug, and owes $14,000 to gangsters who run a card game. He won't pay it off with his dead-end job as a mover, and he has to give up on the fake marriage to qualify for a green card, since he lacks the $15,000 to get it. But Lena (Nadezhda Mikhalkova), the "nice girl" Soso found for the marriage, sticks with him, even after he loses more money, $2,000 Kakhi has given him.

The flat, orderly winter sand of Brighton beach makes for particularly striking images in two important scenes: when Soso gets beaten up by the gambling bosses when he loses the $2,000 from his father; and later when Kakhi challenges the boss, who wrestled in his youth, to a match to absolve the debt.

Along the way there are other incidents. The men are drawn into helping some Georgian ladies exploited by an Asian-featured Kazazkh hotelier (Tolepbergen Baisakalov) who has stopped paying them for their cleaning services. They trick him and kidnap him. It's a comedy of errors but he promises to pay.

Brighton 4th uses real people and places to achieve a fable-like realism. Among the key moments of magic are those contributed by opera singer-turned-hotel doorman Sergo (the late Kakhi Kavsadze, a legend of Soviet and Georgian cinema in his final role). Such live singing is the only score. When there is a death, Sergo leads a band of others in a folksong, one of those powerful Russian-style polyphonic male choruses whose rousing intensity grips you, which ends the film on a note of authenticity and emotion.

The film unfolds in Boris Frumin's screenplay like a simple, haunting short story whose secondary plot elements are like decorative filigrees that never detract from the quiet onrush of inevitable events surrounding Kakhi and his son. Brighton 4 isn't slick, but it's sure of itself, and its use of authentic people, places, language and music give it a distinctive flavor that lingers in the mind and heart.

Brighton 4th, 95 mins., debuted Jun. 10, 2021 at Tribeca (NYC), where it won three International Narrative awards: Best Actor, Best Feature, and Best Screenplay. It continued at Karlovy Vary and over a dozen other international festivals with a number of nominations and several wins. Submitted as Georgia's entry in the Best International Feature 2022 Oscars. It opened in theaters in New York Jan. 28, 2022 and Los Angeles Feb. 11. Watched belatedly on a screener Mar. 20, 2022. Coming to All major VOD platforms
Mar. 29, 2022. Metacritic rating: 77%.


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