Sunday, September 21, 2014

Discovering Georgian Cinema: Will There Be a Theatre Up There

When celebrated actor Kakhi Kavsadze states he came of age in a country that no longer exists, he perhaps should not speak so soon. Putin clearly has designs to reassert the USSR’s old spheres of domination and Kavsadze’s native Georgia was one of the first nations he trained his military crosshairs on. Yet, current events make Kavsadze’s reminiscences of the Stalin era even more poignant in Nana Janelidze’s documentary, Will There Be a Theatre Up There?! (trailer here), which screens during MoMA’s new film series, Discovering Georgian Cinema, Part 1: A Family Affair.

Kavsadze came from a long line of well respected traditional Georgian singers, as Stalin himself would attest. A letter from the dictator to his revered grandfather has a special place of irony in his family’s history. Kavsadze’s father was also an accomplished vocalist and choir-master, but WWII was not kind to him, or Kavsadze’s family by extension. The senior Kavsadze managed to save scores of Georgians POWs by organizing a camp choir, but such benign survival strategies would earn him the label: “enemy of the people.”

Through his words and occasional songs, Kavsadze revisits his early childhood years, paying tribute to his parents for enduring their endless tribulations. Technically, it all takes place in one location, but the hanger-like industrial building re-purposed as a film studio is remarkably versatile. Janelidze will often stage dramatic tableaux to illustrate Kavsadze’s recollections, which frequently seem to stir legitimate emotions deep within the grand thespian.

Kavsadze’s stories are about as personal as they get, yet they offer tremendous insight into the nature of the Communist system. Perhaps most telling is the episode in which a pair of KGB agents came to the Kavsadze home looking for an incriminating document, but tried to carry off their dinner table instead (fun fact: Putin was a veteran KGB agent).

Kavsadze is a forceful presence who truly commands the viewer’s attention. Likewise, Janelidze’s sparse but elegant approach gives rise to some striking images that often bring to mind Eastern European cinematic classics, like Wajda’s Everything for Sale. Despite its relatively short running time (fifty-five minutes), Theatre offers viewers quite a bit to take in. It is especially fitting that it had a special screening during this summer’s Odessa International Film Festival, since Georgia has been informally advising Ukraine how to respond when Russia invades their sovereign territory. Very highly recommended, Will There Be a Theatre Up There?! screens this Thursday (9/25) and Sunday (10/5) as part of MoMA’s upcoming Georgian film series.