Issue 31 (2011)
Levan Koguashvili: Street Days (Quchis Dgeebi, Georgia 2010)
reviewed by Julie Christensen © 2011
Levan Koguashvili’s first feature film, Street Days, stars Guga Kotetishvili, a Tbilisi artist and non-professional actor as Chekie, a middle-aged heroin addict at the end of his luck, but not without what one might risk calling a “Georgian soul.” Unemployed, a slave to heroin, 45 years old and sick, he owes money to everyone, and the bank is threatening to foreclose on the run-down flat where his wife and young son must survive without him. On a drug run, he is nabbed outside his pusher’s flat by three corrupt cops who threaten him with a veritable “life sentence” in prison if he does not collaborate. Their assignment: Chekie is to shoot up and plant heroin on one of his old school friend’s son’s (who has attached himself to Chekie in hopes of scoring), so that they can blackmail the boy’s father, a “minister” in the government. Ironically, the person who joins Chekie in his resistance to the lurking vigilantes is the teenager he has been ordered to set up. Young Ika is a marvelous foil to Chekie, and a key figure in the film, bridging the older and younger generations, the “haves” and “have-nots,” the past and the future, personal tragedy and hope. Both Kotetishvili and Irakli Ramishvili bring in excellent performances.
Ika first attempts to help Chekie by inviting him to a dinner party at his home that evening, where he trusts his father will be moved to bail out his old school friend. The juxtaposition there between Chekie and his former friends, elegant and prosperous, at the table with a suckling pig just out of the new imported ceramic oven, with wine, dancing, and Georgian music—first the four-part harmony of male guests, then a lead female voice—, is handled lightly, with a kind of bittersweet grace. Despite the prosperity surrounding him and the survival of the “kepi,” or Russian banquet, Chekie receives no help from his old friend, a clear sign that the old days of the communal economy based on clan and friendship are over.
Ika masterminds the next crazy scheme: Chekie and Ika, dressed in costumes of a wolf and a rabbit ripped off from the upcoming school play, kidnap a young girl from the school in hopes of procuring the 8,000 lari that Chekie needs to pay off the bank. Here, as elsewhere in the film, humor or slapstick melts into potential or real danger. As Chekie runs, with his lion’s tail, into the hospital with his unconscious young captive, the humor turns dark and farce skirts tragedy. Averted tragedy turns quickly to irony, as Chekie runs into another one of the old friends he would rather avoid—this time an Orthodox priest.
Most of the action of the film takes place on the street outside the school where Chekie and a number of his friends studied. Interactions between those inside the school and the junkies and addicts loitering outside provide the space for humor and, ironically, personal tragedy and heartbreak. Georgian films have often been set in this “inside/outside” space of Tbilisi, with its traditional balconies and courtyards, open windows, and greetings, jokes, and melodies that travel back and forth, and Street Days operates in a similar space and manner. Teachers, wives, and old friends castigate and scold, plead and threaten those from their own ranks who have ended up “on the street”—the “lost generation,” as Koguashvili calls them. Junkies exchange insults with their old teacher. Older boys from the school pool their money to “score” from the men on the street. Chekie moves between the street and the school, where his young son is a pupil; between the street and the apartment houses of dealers and pushers; between the street and the flat of his old friend, now “minister;” between the street and his own flat, as his wife is forced to sell most of her worldly possessions, including an old upright piano, and her clothes. A certain similarity with Ioseliani’s masterpiece Lived Once a Song Thrush (Iqo shashvi mgalobeli,1970), another “Tbilisi street film” that exists on the “inside/outside axis” mentioned above has not been lost to some reviewers (for example, Baker). In its casting of a visual artist with his own hard life as hero, the film also brings to mind Georgi Shengelaya’s aesthetically rich, sad tribute to Georgia’s most beloved primitivist painter and incurable alcoholic, Niko Pirosmani (Niko Pirosmanishvili, 1961).
Levan Koguashvili was born in Georgia in 1973 and considers himself a member of “the lost generation” depicted in Street Days. His biography includes a year at the State Institute of Film and Theatre in Tbilisi interrupted by the civil war and a two-year stint in television, then a degree from Moscow’s Film Institute (VGIK) where he studied under Marlen Khutsiev, followed by two years in Tbilisi as a film director for advertising, television and documentaries, and then postgraduate studies at the New York Film School. Koguashvili’s short, The Debt, screened in competition at both the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival. His Women from Georgia (Kartuli kalebi, 2008), a documentary about Georgians living in Brooklyn solely to send money home to their families, won the Jury Special Prize at the International Film Festival in Batumi.
In 2008 he returned to Georgia to start filming Street Days. A key element in this particular film is, certainly, Koguashvili’s own love and respect for so many in his own generation who were born and schooled in the Soviet period, then tossed into rapid capitalism, privatization, and civil war. His training in documentary, and his respect for his subjects, including a number of real addicts and junkies he cast for the film, is palatable: “The process was very nice,” he says of working with non-professionals. “They enjoyed working. The most important quality of direction – which is something I learned from documentaries—is you have to love the character you’re making the film about. And once you love them, they feel it, and they respond” (Lawrenson).
The prevailing colors of the film are brown and blue, as the director explains, the colors of sadness he saw when looking out the window at the city. Unlike most Georgian films of the last decade, however, Street Days does not dwell on politics or the war. Relationships and conversations are personal, as are fates. There is much sadness in the film, yet one cannot miss the underlying sense of self, love, desire, and hope in life itself (despite so much loss) that runs through the film, and, together with music, suggests a spirit of the city of Tbilisi that has been missing from many Georgia films of the post-Soviet period.
Street Days premiered in Georgian theaters in March 2010 and has been screened at a number of festivals, including Los Angeles, Moscow, Edinburgh, Valencia, and the Rotterdam @ BAM Festival in New York. It was selected for the VPRO Tiger Awards Competition in Rotterdam and won the Golden Lily for Best Film at the goEast Film Festival in Wiesbaden in April, where it was praised for “reviving the best tradition of Georgian neo-realistic film.” Koguashvili described his “realism” thus: “To give the protagonist as realistic a character as possible, I worked with non-professional actors. Real people are more believable than actors, who are accustomed to wearing masks. For the casting I had some help from the police, who I walked around with for a few days. I also chose a classic approach: minimal editing in long held shots. And no shaky hand-held camera.”
Impressive here and in recent Georgian films are the growing number of talented young directors, cinematographers, artists, musicians, and screenwriters working in Georgia, supported by young energetic and successful producers such as Archil Gelovani. Born in 1974 in Moscow, with degrees from Moscow’s International Institute of International Relations and Harvard University, Gelovani co-founded in 2006 the “Independent Film Project” film studio with Levan Korinteli; since 2009 he is Chair of the Board of Directors of the Georgian film studio “Kartuli pilmy.” Among directors in Gelovani’s portfolio are Aleko Tsabadze, Vano Burduli, Dito Tsintsadze, Merab Kokochashvili, Zaza Urushadze, Aleksandre Rekhviashvili, and Levan Koguashvili. While one could and should credit all members of the cast and crew of Street Days, I will single out a personal favorite, Kote Japaridze (b. 1971), production designer, whose credits include, among other films, Russian Triangle (Aleko Tsabadze, 2007), A Trip to Karabakh (Gaseirneba Karabaghshi, Levan Tutberidze, 2005), and Tbilisi, Tbilisi (Levan Zaqareishvili, 2005). Recognizing the dangers resulting from the on-going struggle for this much-coveted part of the world, the challenges of globalization and the collapse of socialism, and the proximity of war zones, one is nevertheless tempted to suggest that Georgian cinema is back.
George Mason University
|Comment on this review on Facebook|
1] Street Days Press Kit
2] Wiesbaden “Georgian Film Wins Main Prize at goEast Film Festival,” in goEast, 11 Festival of Central and East European Film, Wiesbaden.
3] “Interview: Levan Koguashvili—Street Days,” International Film Festival Rotterdam
Baker, Maria (Mariia Beiker), “Rotterdamskii kinofestival’ nakroet postsovetskaia volna,” bbcrussian.com 27 January 2010.
Lawrenson, Edward “Pavement artist,” International Film Festival Rotterdam 2010.
Street Days, Georgia, 2010
86 mins, 35mm, color
Director: Levan Koguashvill
Producers: Archil Gelovani, Gia Bazgadze, Levan Korinteli
Screenwriters: Levan Koguashvili, Boris Frumin, Nikoloz Marr, with Andro Sakhvarelidze, inspired by a short story by Mamuka Kherkheulidze
Music: Rezo Kiknadze
Production Design: Kote Japaridze
Cinematographer: Archil Akhvlediani
Editor: Nodar Nozadze
Executive Producer: Ketevan Machavariani
Cast: Guga Kotetishvili, Rusudan Kobiashvili, Irakli Ramishvili, Aleko Begalishvili, George Kipshidze
Levan Koguashvili: Street Days (Quchis Dgeebi, Georgia 2010)
reviewed by Julie Christensen © 2011