Tense re-telling of a real-life hijack in Georgia from rising arthouse star Rezo Gigineishvili


Dir. Rezo Gigineishvili. Russian Federation, Georgia, Poland. 2017. 103 mins

A real-life event provides the subject for the impressive fourth feature from Georgian-born director Rezo Gigineishvili. A botched aircraft hijacking perpetrated by a group of privileged youngsters in Soviet-Georgia in 1983 shocked the nation. Rather than probing their motives for the escape attempt, Gigineishvili instead crafts a taut, meticulously-researched account of the events and their aftermath. It’s a breathlessly tense piece of work, which suggests that Gigineishvili (Love With Accent, No Borders) is developing into a talent to watch in the arthouse circuit.

Particularly effective is the oppressive sense of claustrophobia

Powerhouse ensemble performances from an attractive cast make this thriller a sellable prospect. But it is in the cinematography, shot by Vladislav Opelyants (The Student) and infused with a nervy paranoia, that the film finds its standout feature. Further festival bookings seem likely and, while Gigineishvili doesn’t yet have name recognition outside Georgia and Russia, critical support could help boost returns for distributors willing to champion this picture.

The title, one assumes, refers not to the passengers on Aeroflot flight 6833 from Tbilisi to Batumi but to the hijackers themselves. Within Georgian society, they are members of the intellectual elite: artists, actors and sons of doctors. But the stifling scrutiny of the KGB and restrictions on travel make this a gilded cage. For young men who reverently handle a Beatles album as if it’s a treasured artefact, a new life in the West is the ultimate aim.

To this end, this band of friends uses the marriage of two of their party, actor Nika (Irakli Kvirikadze) and Anna (Tina Dalakishvili), as a cover for the venture. Even before the plan starts to unfold, there is a sense that the gaze of the authorities is resting upon these youngsters. They are reprimanded for ‘swimming after 11pm’. And the KGB calls in one of their fathers for a quietly menacing chat about his son, sending the respective parents into a scuttling panic.

The wedding, partly captured with one of several audacious and energetic tracking shots, marks the point at which the tension starts to ratchet. Before the gang has even entered the plane, things start to go wrong. What was supposed to be a small flight with no other passengers has been combined with another plane load of travellers. Then bad weather in Batumi delays their departure. The friends wait, agonisingly aware of the bag of guns hidden under one of the seats.

Particularly effective is the oppressive sense of claustrophobia, first at a party held in Nika and Anna’s honour at his mother’s apartment, and later in the plane itself when the hijack attempt spirals quickly and dramatically out of control. Opelyants’ restless lens captures every bead of sweat, every panicked glance.

Perhaps the boldest decision is the resolutely non-judgemental stance that the film takes with regard to the hijackers. Given the loss of innocent lives which resulted from this desperate, reckless act, it remains to be seen whether Georgian audiences are ready for the human side of their story. Gigineishvili makes a case that it was a tragedy for all involved, not least the unfortunate parents who subsequently find themselves under KGB scrutiny.

Production company: Ink TV, 20 Steps Production, Kinocompania Nebo

International sales: WestEnd films info@westendfilms.com

Producers: Mikhail Finogenov, Tamara Tatishvili, Vladimir Katcharava, Rezo Gigineishvili

Screenplay: Lasha Bughadze, Rezo Gigineishvili

Cinematography: Vladislav Opelyants

Editor: Jaroslav Kaminski, Andrey Gamov

Production design: Kote Japaridze

Music: Gia Kancheli

Starring: Merab Ninidze, Darejan Kharshiladze, Tina Dalakishvili, Irakli Kvirikadze, Giga Datiashvili, Giorgi Grdzelidze, George Tabidze, Giorgi Khurtsilava, Vakhtang Chachanidze, Ekaterine Kalatozishvili