Dir-scr. Otar Iosseliani. France-Georgia. 2010. 122mins


Welcome to the private, whimsical world of Otar Iosseliani. Access permitted only for those who share his constant thirst for any liquid containing alcohol, the stronger the better, for his ironic outlook of the world around him and his immense sympathy for the human race, despite its countless shortcomings.

The film is cut by Iosseliani in his typical easy-going manner, suggesting that telling the story in a cogent manner.

Unbelievers would better stay away, for they will never quite grasp the spirit of this satirical sketch, autobiographical to be sure, though, as Iosseliani himself points out, reflecting not only his own past (he claims to have been luckier than the film’s hero), but that of many others, from Alexander Askoldov to Andrei Tarkovski.

Probably one of the more personal pages in Iosseliani’s family album, this is bound as usual to be welcome only in festivals and art houses, but luckily, there are plenty of those around.

The two sections of the plot are quite similar, though the first part takes place in Iosseliani’s native Georgia, the second in France, the country he has lived in since the early 1980s. It starts with the illicit projection of a film sequence (in reality a Iosseliani short of 1959 never shown before) and it goes on to follow Niko (Tarielashvili), an aspiring filmmaker, facing ideologues who are only too happy to explain officially their objections to his work, and to congratulate him secretly for his talents.

There is a brief flashback to Nicholas’ childhood and plenty of insights into the particular nature of his family and his neighbors, not to mention a glimpse or two into his filmmaking and his clashes with the filmmaking system.

Once it is clear there is no future for him at home, he tries his luck in Paris, sweeps the streets, cleans the zoo, feeds the elephants and the bears and finely meets a producer who offers him the chance to direct a film in France, at which point he discovers that the free-spirited West puts no fewer obstacles on his way than the indoctrinated censors of home.

The plot, however, has never held much of an interest for Iosseliani, it is the details on the road that have always delighted his admirers in the past, and will probably charm them all over again. A poet at heart whose visual imagination is always at work - watch one shot young Niko sets up which starts with an orchestra playing on a balcony and ends with an officer being blown-up by a bomb behind a tree - as he delivers his running commentary on the world we live in, embracing one and all in a warm, gentle hug and rejecting any such sentiments as spite or revenge, which would make life so much more miserable to live.

Around brief guest performances by Iosseliani himself (he claims the actor for whom the role was intended died just before the shooting), Bulle Ogier and celebrated actor/director Pierre Etaix in a great send-up of a French producer, the cast consists, as usual, of non-professionals who fit perfectly in the mood, with lead Tarielashvili quite reminiscent of the young Iosseliani.

Homogenously shot by two different cinematographers, one in Georgia the other in France, the film is cut by Iosseliani in his typical easy-going manner, suggesting that telling the story in a cogent manner has never been an essential quality in his eyes.

Production companies: Pierre Grise Productions, Sanguko Films, French Ministry of Culture
Producer: Martine Marignac
International Sales: Les Films du Losange, (33) 1 44 43 87 28
Cinematography: Lionel Cousin, Julie Grunebaum
Production designer: Emmanuel de Chauvigny
Editor: Otar Iosseliani, Emmanuelle Legendre
Music: Djordji Balantchivadze
Main cast: Dato Tarielashvili, Tamuna Karumidze, Fanny Conin, Givi Sarchimelidze, Pierre Etaix, Bulle Ogier, Bogdan Stupka