Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Since Otar Left



Depuis quOtar est parti : France (Fr/Bel/Georgia) 2003 : Julie BERTUCELLI : 102 mins

When Otar leaves for France to work, three women stay behind in contemporary Tblisi, the capital of Georgia: his mother, sister and niece. They struggle to make ends meet in a society that has collapsed after independence from the Soviet Union. In this miserable situation our three heroines live: the old one seeming only to live for letters and phone calls from her son Otar in France; the middle-aged daughter strongly disliking the chaos in the country; the granddaughter a student who really cannot make things work with her boyfriend. Three women with longings, dreams and hopes, living together in turns quarreling and supporting each other, telling large, white lies, hiding unpleasant sides of the truth from each other with the best intentions!
(from official Troms 2004 Film Festival programme)

Since Otar LeftBeing stuck in a crumbling Tblisi mansion with three bickering generations of Georgian women may not sound like a recipe for cinematic joy, but that’s exactly what Bertucelli achieves with her terrifically entertaining and accomplished first feature. This is due in no small part to the remarkable central performance by nonagenarian Esther Gorintin the indomitable granny Eka: a sweet-looking but flinty old stick who wistfully recalls the Soviet days when Georgian boy Stalin was in charge, she lives for the occasional phone-call or letter from her son Otar, who has gone to work in Paris (his name presumably a nod to legendary Georgian-born, French-exiled director Otar Ioseliani.)

When a tragedy befalls Otar, Ekas perpetually-unsatisfied daughter Marina (Nino Khomassaouridze) decides the news is too much for the old lady to bear and persuades her own daughter, ambitious student Ada (Dinara Droukarova) to play along with the benign deception This is, in a way, a more intimate companion-piece to Wolfgang Beckers European arthouse smash Good Bye Lenin! rather than covering up the demise of an entire ideology and country for the benefit of a frail female relative, Ada and Marinas ruse involves only the death of a single individual. But Bertucellis film is a cut above Lenin in every regard: this is a brilliantly-observed tragedy-tinged comedy full of the kinds of gestures, looks and dialogue that will be familiar to anyone who has ever experienced friction with relatives.

Bertucelli and her co-writers Bernard Renucci and Roger Bohbot – sketch in the political and social background with a minimum of fuss: this is such educated and (relatively) wealthy family that French has always been spoken in the house as much as Georgian (a typically charming touch that pays off in the final twist), and Marina feels the privations of the post-Soviet world as fiercely as anyone. Its impossible to live in this country! she screams when the running water is suddenly cut off mid-hair-wash. Such is Bertucellis control of tone that even when Eka blows her savings on airline tickets and the action unexpectedly switches to Paris, the film loses none of its momentum or appeal. Deadpan and unpredictable, patient but never slow, one-off Since Otar Left is a delight from start to finish.

3rd February, 2004
(seen 18th January : Verdensteatret Cinema, Troms Troms International Film Festival)

click here for brief notes after a second viewing

click here for a full list of reviewed films from the Troms International Film Festival 2004

by Neil Young