Review: Bebia, à mon seul désir
- The feature debut by Georgian writer-director Juja Dobrachkous is an impressive, if flawed, stunningly filmed black-and-white drama
There seems to be no shortage of bold, new women filmmaking voices coming out of Georgia. In 2020, it was Dea Kulumbashvili with Beginning [+see also:
interview: Dea Kulumbegashvili
film profile], and now, competing at IFFR, we are introduced to Juja Dobrachkous and her impressive debut, Bebia, à mon seul désir [+see also:
interview: Juja Dobrachkous
film profile]. Despite problems with character development and some muddled symbolism, this gorgeous black-and-white picture makes for a unique viewing experience.
Our hero, Ariadna (model Anastasia Davidson in her first film role) is called back from London to her small town in the Mingrelia region as her Bebia ("grandmother" in Georgian, played by Guliko Gurgenidze) has died. As soon as she enters the family home, she is met with reproach from her angry, unhappy, chain-smoking mother (Anastasia Chanturaia).
Georgian tradition is full of beautiful and strange rituals, but this Mingrelian one is particularly interesting. As Bebia died in the hospital, away from her home, her soul must be tethered back to her body. This is done by unspooling a thread from the place where she died to her coffin, and it has to be done on foot. It's a 25 km walk, and it is up to the youngest member of the family to do it, which in this case is Ariadna. She tries resisting, but the elders say it must be done, so she is assigned a travel companion. This is Temo (Alexander Glurjidze), a young stoner with a nihilistic outlook, whose exact ties to the family are unclear until the end of the film.
So Ariadna and Temo walk through the beautiful and often rugged landscapes that Georgia is famous for, all the while taking care to ensure the thread does not snap. Imposing ruins and castles from bygone eras serve as a backdrop to their mythological task, until night falls and they find shelter in a remote forest cottage where a poor family welcomes and feeds them, bathed in petroleum lamp light. When a storm hits, this turns into a furiously nightmarish scene – one of the film's highlights.
In between the present-day scenes, Dobrachkous adds flashbacks from Ariadna's childhood. From scenes of her tough upbringing, which feature rough ballet training and a lot of shouting from Bebia, it transpires that, after grandma and her own mother, Ariadna seems to be destined to become another in a long line of angry, unhappy women.
This is probably the primary theme in the feature, which muddles the development of its imaginative set-up. Ariadna does not seem to get much out of her pilgrimage; if it was supposed to result in her liberation from the family past in which she lacked warmth and love, we don't see that happen. Thus the metaphor does not really click: the Theseus myth is about getting saved by a loved one, but nothing of the sort happens here.
Plus, Bebia's name is Medea, and this mythical angle can be interpreted as women destroying their children because they themselves have been destroyed by men. But Dobrachkous does not elaborate on this aspect, focusing on the women's stormy relationships among themselves, rather than with the culturally dominant gender.
Russian DoP Veronica Solovyeva’s impressionistic, black-and-white cinematography, where the black often dominates over the white, is never less than stunning. Filming bodies more than faces, the director relegates dialogue scenes from a narrative device to background chatter – and there's a lot of it. This creates a fluctuating atmosphere that is hard to pin down, which makes the film intriguing and original – for better or worse, depending on the audience's tastes.
Bebia, à mon seul désir is a co-production by the UK's Twice a Day, with Georgia's TEO Films and Metro Productions serving as line producers. Its international rights are handled by Greece's Endorphin Film Sales.
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