Since Otar Left…

Georgia is in the news for all the wrong reasons this week, so this DVD release is something of a timely salve. It is by no means a jolly romp through the Caucuses, but its touching sense of humane irony lifts the spirits rather than crushing them underfoot. Writer/director Julie Bertuccelli worked with Krzysztof Kieslowski on Three Colours: Blue and one senses that influence in the gentle rhythms and wry whimsy of the storytelling.

The film is set in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, where three generations of females live together in a small apartment. There’s no hot water but there are shelves upon shelves of French literature and the women live in a Chekhovian state of longing for Paris. The granddaughter reads out Proust as she massages her grandmother’s swollen feet but the real link to France, and the reason for the title, are the letters that come from the absent son, Otar, who has emigrated there.

When news of Otar’s death reaches home, the information is kept secret from his mother, in the fear that the heartbreak would be too much for her. The resulting subterfuge on the part of family and friends is not so much a tool for creating dramatic suspense, but rather a path along which the film can explore the relationships between the women. It is also the event that upsets their quiet stasis and propels them into action, a sure sign of impending turmoil, if not tragedy.

Film, the artistic medium that best conjures up the illusion of effortless globe-trotting is, in this case, used as a simple reminder that some gaps are impossible to traverse: the distance between homes, the distance between life and death, the distance between two glass walls.