Since Otar Left Review
Since Otar Left is the part of the Discoveries series of six films released on DVD by Optimum in collaboration with BBC Four and The Edinburgh Film Festival, a series intended to draw attention to new filmmaking talent from across the globe. Julie Bertuccelli has worked as assistant director to Krysztof Kieslowski on Three Colours Blue and Three Colours White, as well as with Georgian director Otar Iosseliani. It’s another Otar, who co-incidentally is also Georgian, who is the subject of her debut feature film, Depuis Qu’Otar Est Parti.
Since Otar left for France, his mother Eka (Esther Gorintin), sister Marina (Nino Khomasuridze) and niece Ada (Dinara Drukarova) have had to manage as best they can in Tbilisi in the former soviet state of Georgia. Otar has been living in Paris for two years, working without a visa on a construction site, but dutifully phoning home and sending back letters to his adoring mother. One day however Ada and Marina receive a phone-call. Otar has been killed in an accident. They don’t know how to break the news to the mother, so they decide not to tell her and try to find ways to keep up the pretence. But the situation becomes complicated when the old lady wants to go to Paris to see her beloved son again.
Otar’s absence has had a profound effect on all three women. The mother’s favourite son, his success and happiness mean everything to her. Marina has however had to live in the shadow of her brother and this has had an effect not just in her relationship with her brother, but also with men in general. She is often excluded from conversations in French between the other members of the family. For Ada, Otar represents freedom – escape from the run-down country where nothing seems to work and where she is reluctant to enter into a relationship with men who are going nowhere. Forging letters from her deceased uncle, she creates an idealised image of a situation and the city of Paris she has always dreamed of visiting.
Life hasn’t been easy for all three women living together in Tbilisi, coping as best as they can with the little extra money that Otar sends back with his letters. Nothing seems to work in the former soviet state. The people have to get used to power cuts, to water shortages at inopportune moments and phone-calls which are constantly cut-off. This of course affects industry, since the resources and infrastructure are unreliable, and consequently opportunities for employment. The mother complains constantly that things were better in Stalin’s day, but unlike perhaps Good Bye Lenin!, this is not a film with nostalgia for the days of the Soviet Bloc. Since Otar Left, without making it the subject of the film, nevertheless manages to represent three generations of women who have each grown up in very different social circumstances with different attitudes and outlooks. The resultant interaction between the three very different women, carefully and subtly created by Bertuccelli, are marvellously portrayed by each of the three actors. Their characters are defined not just by the political and economic climate, but by their emotional response to the situation they find themselves in. It is the human factor that is most important in breathing life into each of the characters, making their concerns personal, individual and real.
The picture quality of the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is very good. It’s reasonably clear and free from any marks, scratches or dustspots whatsoever. Colour levels are fine, tones are natural, though perhaps the image is not quite as sharp as it could be with edges not clearly defined. Blacks are strong, not greatly detailed, but the picture seems to handle darker scenes well. There is a very slight level of grain and some minor jitter from macro compression artefacts, but the general impression is that the image quality is quite decent.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is straightforward, clear and accurate, fully handling the demands of the film which doesn’t stretch beyond scenes of dialogue.
English subtitles are mandatory and, being slightly large, are clearly readable.
Not a lot in the way of extra features, the DVD includes a Trailer (1.48) for the film, letterboxed with fixed subtitles and promos for the other sponsors of Discoveries series of which this film is a part – an Edinburgh Festival Promo (2:25) and a BBC Four Promo (1:00).
Released this month alongside the wonderful A Thousand Months from Moroccan debut filmmaker Faouzi Bensaïda, Julie Bertuccelli’s debut film is a certainly a worthy addition to Optimum’s Discoveries series. Both films show ambition and a surprising amount of talent for a debut filmmaker in putting across the political circumstances as well as the emotional situation and personal lives of the characters in their films. This is a lovely little film – thoughtful, charming and moving capturing the complexities of emotions, relationships and life.