Judge Jesse Ataide survives an estrogen-fest back in the (former) USSR.
"Since Otar left…life hasn't been the same."
There's nothing like a little Communism to inspire nostalgia in Eastern European cinema these days. Seen in Goodbye Lenin! and now in Julie Bertuccelli's debut film Since Otar Left, it seems like we've come into a period where Communism is being reevaluated through different eyes, and a way of life that has now all but disappeared is beginning to take on some slightly romanticized qualities.
Perhaps it's a slight exaggeration to place Since Otar Left in the same category as Goodbye Lenin!, as the only overtly political exchange in the film is brief, and certainly not emphasized (though the theme is picked up in one of the deleted scenes included in the extras). But the two films share some striking similarities—both revolve around members of the post-Communist generation desperately attempting to recreate and maintain a fictional world for an older person who recalls their life under the former Communist regime with a sense of reminiscent wistfulness.
Since Otar Left is set in Tbilisi, Georgia, a small country that declared its independence from the crumbling USSR in the early 1990s. The unseen Otar is a doctor who emigrated to Paris in hopes of making a better life for himself, forcing his sister Marina (Nino Khomasuridze), his niece Ada (Dinara Drukarova), and his doting 90-year-old mother Eka (Esther Gorintin) to find a way to live together and support themselves in his absence. In their individual ways, each women is fiercely headstrong and independent. Though at times the tension levels nearly reach a breaking point, family bonds prove capable of withstanding even the most extreme generational differences.
When news reaches Georgia that Otar has been killed in a job-related accident, Marina and Ada try to shield Eka from the reality of the situation, believing her not physically capable of withstanding the emotional shock of losing her beloved son. Letters are written and excuses are made for the lack of telephone communication. Despite her advanced age, Eka is not easily deceived, causing both Marina and Ada to go to great lengths to keep up their complicated charade.
Since Otar Left, much like Goodbye Lenin!, is plagued by plot holes and blatant implausibilities, but it is ultimately saved by its excellent acting and skillful direction, which helps smooth over any problems with the story. Director Julie Bertuccelli, who worked as assistant director on the first two films of Krzysztof Kieslowski's sublime Three Colors Trilogy, captures the nuances of daily life in Tbilisi—the constant power and water outages, tight living quarters, bustling outdoor markets, and dilapidated buildings—with a subtle grace and keen artistic insight that appear to indicate the emergence of an important young director in French cinema.
Much credit also needs to be given to the three lead actresses for making the film succeed despite its shaky premise. The main performances are all exquisitely rendered, filled with delicate shadings that give their characters a sense of depth and authenticity that quietly entices the viewer to get deeply invested in the increasingly difficult situation they face. In many ways each of the three women are variations of characters we've seen before. Ada's the young woman torn between her familial responsibilities and her own identity. Marina is the overlooked daughter struggling for her mother's affection. Eka's the overbearing but endearing old woman who quietly presides over the whole situation. But all three always manage to take their characters in directions that keep the proceedings from ever feeling like lukewarm leftovers.
Thankfully, Zeitgeist has given Since Otar Left the respectable presentation it deserves. The 1.85:1 anamorphic picture is mostly clear and defect-free, capturing the soft, muted color scheme of the film with overall beautiful results. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, which is used occasionally for unseen voices and city noises, and both English and French subtitles are available. A collection of twelve deleted scenes (many of which add additional depth to the various characters, and are quite lovely in and of themselves), the U.S. theatrical trailer, and a 55 minute making-of documentary narrated by the director are provided as extras.
Since Otar Left won many awards at various European film festivals for its director, and it's easy to see why. Though functioning most effectively as a inter-generational character study, Since Otar Left also works as a subtle examination of world views in conflict and the lengths people will go to protect those that they love.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
• Making-Of Documentary
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