Dir: Otar Iosselliani. Fr/It, 2002. 122 mins.
The first ten minutes of Georgian director Otar Iosselliani's delicate new film break all those script workshop rules about snappy, cut-to-the-chase montage. We see a man getting up, having breakfast, going downstairs, crossing a muddy yard, getting into his car, driving, parking, catching the train from a suburban station, getting on a bus, and arriving outside the gates of the factory where he works as a welder: all in laborious step-by-step detail. But in those ten minutes, without a single word of dialogue, the director has drawn the character of a quiet but determined man with a well-developed sense of irony, and filled us in on his house, his family, his battleaxe of a wife, his job, and his need to escape the soul-destroying daily routine. Iosselliani is a consummate filmmaker, and in Monday Morning (for which he won the best director prize at Berlin) he tells a simple story with the barest of resources. Though the film is unlikely to break out of the cineclub ghetto internationally, it should reach a slightly wider audience in its co-production territories of France (Iosselliani's home for the past twenty years) and Italy.
Vincent is a factory worker who lives in a rural village somewhere in France with his wife, his elderly mother and his two sons, who see more of their grandmother than they do of their parents. A cast of background parts include a young peeping-tom priest, a postman who steams open people's letters, and a crocodile which is left in Vincent's garden. One day, Vincent borrows some money from his bed-ridden father and heads off on impulse to Venice. Here he befriends Carlo, a middle-aged Venetian who, like Vincent, is sidelined by his family, locked into a boring factory job, and fond of a drink. Vincent also looks up an old friend of his father's - a vain, miserly count played with comic gusto by the director himself. After continuing his travels around the Mediterranean, Vincent turns up back at home to find that nothing has changed.
Iosselliani chose producer Jacques Bidou to play the good-natured man frustrated by his job and by the feeling that his family really doesn't need him around. In placing a non-actor among actors, the director sets Vincent apart as a kind of Everyman figure; though there are times when Bidou's permanent bemused expression strikes a false note. It's difficult to work him out - he looks too smug to be driven by frustration; but on the other hand, this guessing game is one of the things that keeps the film so compelling.
There is something of the spirit of Jacques Tati in Iosselliani's gentle social satire, mixed with a more Caucasian brand of melancholy. Like Tati, Iosselliani finds dialogue superfluous. There are only a dozen or so real conversations in the film; elsewhere, people say just enough to make things happen, whether it is a boss berating Vincent for smoking at work or his Venetian friend offering him a ride in his boat. Characters communicate in a variety of other ways - by morse code or postcard, or simply by lighting up a cigarette. But these are only frail and momentary bridges; in the end, each of Iosselliani's characters returns to a solitude that, for the director, is the basic human condition.
Prod cos: Pierre Grise Productions, Rhone-Alpes Cinema, Mikado
Prods: Martine Marignac, Maurice Tinchant
Cinematography: William Lubtchansky
Prod des: Manu de Chauvigny
Ed: Otar Iosselliani
Music: Nicolas Zourabichvili
Main cast: Jacques Bidou, Anne Kravz-Tarnavsky, Dato Tarielashvili, Anna Lamour-Flori, Arrigo Mozzo
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