An old anecdote has it that David Lean was being pressured to abbreviate one of the extended shots in Lawrence of Arabia. His editor argued that it would push the audience’s patience to breaking point. Lean’s response was to lengthen the take – to make the punters earn their reward. It came to mind in this quiet and uncomplicated but wonderful Georgian film. Schoolgirl Eka (Lika Babluani), a doe-eyed beauty, takes what appears to be a swig of a fortifying drink and proceeds to perform a traditional dance at a rowdy wedding reception. Instead of cutting the scene to ‘sound bite’ brevity, director Nana Ekvtimishvili has it last for a couple of minutes, and the effect is mesmerising. Neither is it the only time that she ushers the viewer into the sort of contemplative mindscape rarely visited by cinema these days. This movie starkly exemplifies how story is all important and that the sophistication of art and artifice can unintentionally distract from it.
With a mostly hand-held camera, next to no mood-making music and free of diversionary special effects, we become involved in the mundane events surrounding Eka and her friends and family on the dismal outskirts of Tbilisi. Squabbles erupt at bread queues, men get drunk and have screaming rows with their wives, unemployed youths with nothing else to do hassle young women. Like a piece of chattel, Natia, a relative of Eka, is forced into a marriage of convenience. Simmering tensions come to the boil when the handsome fellow whom she loves reappears on the cheerless streets. The atmosphere is fraught throughout, for there is a pistol that is bound to come into play at some point. Underpinned by Eka’s urgent need to see her imprisoned father (the theme of a child seeking a parent resonates with the outstanding Russian film of recent times, The Italian), Eka shows wisdom beyond her years in dealing with the drama that engulfs her and Natia. Straightforward and beguiling, it is a tale beautifully told.