Dir: George Ovashvili. Georgia-Germany-France-Czech Republic-Kazakhstan. 2014. 100mins

Corn Island

This almost entirely silent portrait of man wrestling his livelihood from the grasp of a majestically impassible nature, is exactly the type of film every film festival. The approach is reminiscent of Kaneto Shindo’s classic The Naked Island, though the visual background is entirely different, and there is a contemporary political angle added to it, which some may appreciate for its timeliness while others will deplore for diminishing the universal impact of the metaphor.

Ovashvili’s film manages to come up surprisingly coherent and homogenous, completely under his control in its every aspect.

But in any case, the eloquence of Ovashvili’s images in Corn Island (Simindis Kundzuli) beats anything that words might have to say and their impetuosity is bound to draw appreciative glances wherever it is shown. The film premiered at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

The island of the title is a piece of land barely a few acres large, in the middle of a river, created by the spring floods which detached earth clusters from shores and struck them together for God knows how long. An old peasant (Ilyas Salman), his face weather-beaten by too many years out in the sun and the wind, moves into it with his granddaughter (Mariam Buturishvili), to plant the corn that will feed them for the rest of the year.

Each and every stage of their work is painstakingly documented, from the details of building the hut that will shelter them for the season, to fishing ion the river, plowing the land with a shovel and putting up makeshift dams to prevent the earth from drifting away every time a torrential rain threatens to tear the island apart.

Everything is done practically with their bare hands, the primal portrait of man struggling for survival. And it is all done in silence, because there is nothing much to be said that cannot be expressed by a look or a shrug, and even that is hardly necessary.

Ovashvili takes this impressive, meticulously painted, primeval portrait of man struggling to survive and puts it into a distinct political context. The river he is talking about, the Enguri, separates Georgia from Abkhazia, and much blood has been spilt in the conflict between those two countries in recent years. There are no battle scenes in his film, only Abkhazian patrols on one side of the river and Georgians on the other, but there is constant tension in the air.

The island may be a kind of no-man’s-land in the middle, but the suspicious looks in the eyes of the soldiers remind the old man and his granddaughter, as if fighting nature every inch of the way is not enough, that a war is being waged around them, which they are not allowed to ignore. Blending these two elements together updates the classical humanistic, almost Biblical metaphor into an utterly modern one.

With a crew speaking at times 13 different languages on the set, Ovashvili’s film manages to come up surprisingly coherent and homogenous, completely under his control in its every aspect. Though the film was not shot on the Enguri or any other river, but on an island made for the film in an artificial lake in Georgia, the stunning landscape surrounding it couldn’t look more authentic, with veteran Hungarian cinematographer Elemer Ragalyi performing miracles in capturing its arresting natural spectacle, in day time or at night, whether the sun is shining or the rain is beating down furiously, without respite while Josef Bardanashvili’s music seems to grow out of the depths of the river and shadows of the forest.

Salman and Buturishvili do not need to act, their presence is more than sufficient, looking as if they had been carved from the same materials as the nature around them and living in complete communion with it. No wonder the rest seems to interfere rather than add to the picture.

Production company: Almandary Film

International sales: Pascale Ramonda, pascale@pascaleramonda.com

Producer: Nino Devdariani

Screenplay: Nugzar Shataidze, George Ovashvili, Roleof Minneboo

Cinematography: Elemer Ragalyi

Editor: Kim Sun-min

Production designer: Ariunsaichan Dawaachu

Music: Josef Bardanashvili

Main cast: Ilyas Salman, Mariam Buturishvili, Irakli Samusha, Tamer Levent