Since Otar Left

In post Soviet Georgia, three generations of woman, 90 year old Eka (Esther Gorintin, "Carnage"), her daughter Marina (Nino Khomassouridze) and her granddaughter Ada (Dinara Droukarova) struggle to survive "Since Otar Left."

Laura's Review: B+

Director Julie Bertuccelli, former assistant to Bertrand Tavernier and Krzysztof Kieslowski, shows how the bonds across generations mirror cultural histories and how often the largest gift of love is letting go. "Since Otar Left" gilds harsh realities with the romantic nostalgia of the older generation and the guarded optimism of the younger.

As is usually the case in such relationships, irritation needs to skip a generation. Widowed Marina is resentful of her mother's devotion to her brother Otar, who left Tblisi to go to Paris. His medical degree is not recognized there, but he is making a living illegally in construction and delights his mother by sending some of his hard-earned cash back home. France also has a magical aura for this family - Eka's most cherished possession is an extensive library of leather-bound French volumes inherited from her father. These books are about the only thing Marina would never consider selling at the stall she operates in an open air market. Teenaged Ada is devoted to her grandmother, rubbing her feet at the end of the day before settling down to her studies. The young girl seems focused, pshawing the romantic dreams of escape expressed by her sometime boyfriend.

When Marina is notified that her brother was killed in a construction accident, she decides to spare her mother the news and begins a deception that includes letter writing and coverups (Ada has to be quick on her feet when Otar's buddy Niko (Duta Skhirtladze) arrives with Otar's belongings in a suitcase one day). When Marina and Ada return from a weekend at their country dacha, they are amazed to find the apartment's bookshelves empty - Eka has purchased three tickets to Paris to visit Otar. It is a journey that will bring each one of them to a different personal destination and Eka proves to have more surprises in store.

Bertuccelli's attention to the simple things of everyday life provide rich character detail to this simply told tale which is at turns humorous and touching. The story, adapted by Bernard Renucci and Roger Bohbot, is reminiscent of "Goodbye, Lenin!," another tale of post-Soviet children preserving an illusion for a mother with a weak heart, but "Otar's" comedy is more natural. The director attains marvelous performances from her three actresses, particularly the sensational Gorintin whose hunched over frame can speak volumes simply by the way she plops herself down on a bench or shuffles through the bureaucracy of the post office. Gorintin is a classic 'character' who believes she can prove that Stalin never killed anyone and who delights in some sneaked cigarettes riding on a Ferris wheel. Khomassouridze bears the weight of economic burden, caught between her fanciful mother and her exasperated daughter, yet she still shows youthful vibrance in her relationship with Tengiz (Temur Kalandadze), a man she admits she cannot love but clearly enjoys sleeping with. Droukarova creates a realistic young woman who shares a special bond with her grandmother that turns out to have unexpected results. A nod of understanding between the two outside a Paris hotel is one of the film's most subtle and most special moments.

The film's production design and cinematography showcase the Georgian surroundings with that lovely aged shabbiness of old culture and architecture worn down over the years. An apartment with unreliable power (see the documentary Power Trip for an engrossing look at Tblisi's electricity woes), old but still functional cabled streetcars and buildings which reflect the cultures of Russia, Europe and the Middle East all add to the feeling of a place of another time, a golden look which contrasts neatly with the more modern vibrancy of Paris.

"Since Otar Left" is an insightful look at how three generations of women cope with changing times. Julie Bertuccelli's deft touch leaves one with a feeling of wistful hope.