Issue 26 (2009)

George Ovashvili: The Other Bank (Gagma napiri, 2008)

reviewed by Julie Christensen © 2009

beregGeorge Ovashvili’s The Other Bank follows the journey of a 12-year-old Georgian refugee named Tedo from Navtlugi, a haunting slum on the east side of Tbilisi known to the locals as “Africa,” to Tvarcheli, the village in Abkhazia, where he was born before the war. Tedo and his mother are “Georgian refugees in Georgia,” who fled without Tedo’s father, sick and unable to travel, during the Abkhaz war. Eight years later, they live and “work” on the edge of the Georgian capital, in the old industrial region known for its “secret” production of Soviet MIGs, among petty thieves, criminals, and local cops, who live like parasites off the refugees. Tedo has one severely crossed eye. He doesn’t go to school. He works at a tire repair shop, but becomes increasingly involved in juvenile street crime in an effort to keep his mother off the street. In a society that has always operated on a close “mama-shvili (father-son) relationship, Tedo seems particularly alone. Unable to take care of his mother and increasingly in danger from the local police, he sets off for Tvarcheli in search of his father. His journey, by train, jeep, truck, and foot grows increasingly dangerous, although Ovashvili exhibits great control throughout the film to avoid overstatement, and “calms” the action with a pause at the end of each vignette, or chapter. 

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beregThe Other Bank has won a good number of prizes in 2009, and had its “Georgian premiere” in Batumi, and in an interview there, the director expressed his hope the film would open in Tbilisi in September. As he added, the film will probably meets its greatest critics among the Georgian and Abkhaz viewers.

At the Georgian table or “feast,” there is an important word one hears often, “tamadobit,” “in the name of.” Georgians like to drink to a particular person or event or country, “in the name of all.” The belief is that the more individual the narrative, the more universally true.  Ovashvili’s film bridges the individual and the universal. For international viewers, the film adds to the global discourse on children caught in ethnic war and violence, orphans and refugees, children robbed of childhood. For “local viewers,” The Other Bank, with its concrete geography and interplay of Abkhaz, Georgian, and Russian speech, highlights the multiple identities of the inhabitants of these regions, while the story of a young boy looking for his father brings into the foreground the ongoing ethnic pain, suspiciousness, uncertainty, and fear of war-torn Georgia. Suspense mounts as young Tedo crosses into Abkhazia, where he is, in fact, “the enemy,” in a zone where every father has lost a son and every son a father, and every Russian border guard and every glass of vodka increases the potential for violence. Ovashvili’s approach, subtle, understated, and balanced, is therefore all the more impressive. 

beregLike Nana Djordjadze’s Journey to Sopot (Mogzauroba Sopotshi, 1979) or Georgi Shengelaya’s Journey of a Young Composer (Akhalgazrda kompozitoris mogzauroba, 1984), to name a few “Georgian road movies,” The Other Bank, aka “Journey to Africa,” features a young hero is search of himself, his homeland, his native melodies, and his roots. In this film, however, the young Tedo is particularly vulnerable, with compromised vision (his crossed-eye), and language (Tedo speaks only Georgian, not Abkhaz or Russian, so he plays deaf and dumb to avoid being recognized).  The loss of one’s native language is a critical issue for Georgians and Georgian culture (particularly  poignant in Nana Janelidze’s film Lullaby, where a young Georgian girl is kidnapped by a Chechen family and is returned to her parents years later having forgotten her native language). It is, certainly, as important to the Abkhaz. Tedo and his search for his father are iconic of the Georgian quest for sovereignty and unity. Ovashvili manages, nevertheless, to present the pain, suffering, and violence, as well as the potential for goodness on both sides of the Inguri. In one of the most touching sequences of the film, Daur and Zita, an Abkhaz couple who lost their only son in the war, put Tedo up for the night and send him on his way in a manner than nearly resembles “normal family life.” Ovashvili is certainly beholden here to the much-respected writer Guram Shataidze (who died in January 2009), whose novella “Journey to Africa,” was the inspiration for the film. 

A truly “global filmmaker,” trained in Hollywood, supported by an outstanding production crew from Kazakhstan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Czech Republic, Israel, and South Korea, Ovashvili raises hope for the continuing importance and high art of Georgian filmmaking, but ongoing concern about the future of the country and the many peoples residing in a land they once considered paradise.

Julie Christensen
George Mason University

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The Other Bank (Russian title: Drugoi bereg), Georgia and Kazakhstan, 2008
Color, 90 minutes
Director: George Ovashvili
Screenwriter: Nugzar Shataidze
Adaptation: Rustam Ibragimbekov and George Ovashvili
Music: Josef Bardanashvili
Cinematographer: Amir Assadi
Production Design: Merab Joxadze
Editor: Sun-min Kim
Sound: Vladimir Golovnitski and Nezamedin Kiaie
Producer: George Ovashvili, Sain Gabdullin
Associate Producer: Marat Sarulu, Stan Rodman
Cast: Tedo Bekhauri, Galoba Gambaria, Nika Alajajev, Tamara Meskhi, Archil Tabukashvili
Production: Production Company KINO and East Gate Films

Prizes
Jury Award for best feature and for director at Paris Cinema
Grand Jury Prize and FIPRESCI at the Seattle International Film Festival
ALHAMBRA de ORO in Granada
FIPRESCI Prize and Golden Lily at Wiesbaden goEast
Grand Prix at Golden Apricot Festival in Yerevan and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury
Jury Special Mention at FEST in Belgrade

George Ovashvili: The Other Bank (Gagma napiri, 2008)

reviewed by Julie Christensen © 2009

Updated: 30 Sep 09