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Discovering Georgian Cinema

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Discovering Georgian Cinema

Sunday, September 28, 2014
4:00 p.m. Repentance
Tengiz Abuladze (USSR, 1984/1987)

Imported 35mm Print!
In Person/Nana Janelidze


(Monanieba/Pokainie). In the Soviet Union, Tengiz Abuladze’s Repentance was as much an event as a film: one of the most important of the censored films to come off the shelf with the new cultural liberalization of the late 1980s, it was the first to deal with the terrors of the Stalin era. This it does in an oblique but unmistakable way—a way typical of Abuladze, whose art is one of symbolism and surrealism, with a strong feeling for the eccentricities of character. The central figure is a parody of the dictator: with attributes of Stalin—at once whimsical, vindictive, and paranoid—a Hitlerian mustache, and a black shirt à la Mussolini, he is all dictators. Soviet audiences, however, recognized the model for this portrait in Lavrenti Beria, Stalin’s much-feared head of the secret police. In the film, he is one Varlam Aravidze, mayor of a fictional city, who, when we meet him, is being ceremoniously buried. But Aravidze will not stay buried: his body keeps turning up to haunt and embarrass his son Abel, a high official in a new age. The body snatcher turns out to be a woman, Ketevan Barateli, determined to keep alive Aravidze’s memory—not as a benevolent dictator of yesteryear, but as a vicious tyrant under whom her family suffered. Abel Aravidze struggles to salvage his own career by suppressing Ketevan, but repentance is left to yet another generation, that of his son. Abuladze’s picture is at once specific to the memory of the historical horrors, and general to a Kafkaesque collective memory of tyranny. Anachronisms such as powdered wigs and horse-drawn carts thus should come as no surprise to the viewer familiar with his technique.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Abuladze, Rezo Kveselava, Nana Janelidze. Photographed by Mikhail Agranovitj. With Avtandil Makharadze, Iji Ninidze, Merab Ninidze, Zejnab Botsvadze. (153 mins, In Georgian with German subtitles and English electronic titling, Color, 35mm, From Arsenal)