Issue 42 (2013)
Archil Kavtaradze: Disorder (Koma/Bespredel, 2013)
reviewed by Julie Christensen © 2013
Tite, the “hero” of Archil Kavtaradze’s film Disorder, is arrested after hitting two pedestrians crossing a busy street in Tbilisi. He is not young, but an inexperienced driver: he has had his driver’s license only three months. He calls an ambulance and remains at the scene. Nevertheless, he is arrested, and his fate hangs in the balance, as both victims remain unconscious and in critical condition. Hence Coma, the original title in Georgian, seems more appropriate at the beginning of the film. As the movie continues, we begin to experience the “bespredel,” or “disorder,” of the Russian and English titles, as the lawyers assigned to Tite’s case are continually switched, the condition of the victims remains uncertain, and the humiliation and beatings of inmates by prison guards witnessed by Tite as he awaits his fate, grow increasingly violent.
Kavtaradze claims that it was not his intention to make a political movie. When pressed during interviews at the Moscow International Film Festival (where the film was screened with a similar exposé of police corruption from Poland titled Highway Patrol), Kavtaradze and others representing the film insisted that it was apolitical, that they were “speak[ing] the language of art,” and that their intention was to “illuminate certain dark sides of Georgian society.” When journalists suggested that the film had taken sides, or expressed “a definite political position,” Kavtaradze responded that “the boundary between politics and social problems is so thin that it is impossible not to enter the zone of political context.” He argued, further, that the film wasn’t “made up,” as he had spent six months in a Georgian prison and had personally witnessed horrendous torture, intimidation and violence perpetrated by prison guards on inmates (Akhvlediani).
One cannot help but feel shock, horror, concern, and compassion at the suffering inflicted on Mr. Kavtaradze personally and on many others like him while incarcerated in Georgian prisons, or in prisons elsewhere, for that matter. However, it is clear that the film is political and veers very close to personal revenge or vendetta. It is significant that our first view of Tite is a slice of his eyes and eyebrows in his rear-view mirror—looking very much like the eyes and eyebrows of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Coma was designed to shock and disgust viewers and to bring before the eyes of the public the ugly underbelly of the Saakashvili presidency, publically praised for cleaning up police corruption in Georgia. Its impact was greatly diminished in Georgia, however, by “real footage” of torture and abuse of real prisoners in a real prison captured by cell phone on 20 August 2012 and broadcast on all opposition television channels in Tbilisi on the evening of 18 September 2012, two weeks before Georgia’s parliamentary elections. Dismayed and sickened by the images on their evening screens, many Georgians took to the streets, and popular opinion turned away from Saakashvili’s United National Movement toward Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream Coalition. Despite much skepticism about the timing of the release of this footage and many rumors about payments for staging the horrors, it was impossible to ignore the horrific situation in a number of prisons in Georgia, and Saakashvili, rather than denying the validity of the phone footage (as had Khaltuna Kalmakhelidze, his Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance), expressed anger and shock and promised to investigate and to punish the guilty. Kalmakhelidze resigned, and charges, arrests, investigations, and trials of others implicated in prison abuse would continue for months. Ivanishvii’s Georgian Dream Coalition won the parliamentary elections, and further investigation fell to the joint government of Saakashvili as lame duck president and Ivanishvili as newly elected Prime Minister. By March of 2013, when Coma opened in Tbilisi, few Georgians had any desire to watch more prison violence. And then, two months later, the violence resurfaced, as onlookers, supposedly bussed in from the countryside with the support of the Orthodox Church, attacked participants during a Gay Pride Parade in Tbilisi in May. Real events, however surreal, together with “documentary footage” of sadism, beatings, rape, humiliation, and the vulgar cruelty of prison abuse, recorded and released for whatever political purpose, trumped Kavtaradze’s film in Georgia.
Viewed apart from local and regional politics, Disorder may lure film goers who can stomach extreme violence, violence for the sake of violence, or apocalyptic violence. Disorder feels like an end-of-civilization movie. There are no bright moments in the film. The main character, Tite, remains a stranger to us throughout. While it is true that prison inmates are wise to keep their eyes to the ground, remain silent, and hope to be overlooked, the very distant, silent, impersonal, and flat depiction of the hero leaves the viewer disconnected from the protagonist. The same impersonal depiction is carried over into the hospital scenes. Human emotions and conversations are phlegmatic or staged. Spouses of the accident victims exhibit no emotion. Lofty, theatrical pronouncements are undermined by personal behaviors and private comments. Even praying and Orthodox chanting expose hypocrisy, leaving as genuine sounds of human emotion only the cries of agony of the tortured and the mad.
Quick cuts between the prison cell and the hospital ward (most often thematic), as well as counterpoint between visuals and sound expose a parallel disruption of morality within the prison and outside. As one of the prison inmates takes a beating for his cellmates, hospital director Iuza pontificates during a televised interview on a “good citizen” as someone who stands up for others. Iuza further brags on television about generosity to refugees, but curses them in private. After a particularly vicious beating in Tite’s cell, which takes place to a radio broadcast of a polyphonic Orthodox chant, the camera cuts back to the hospital, where a priest walks through the corridors, sprinkling holy water on patients and hospital personnel to an upbeat, theme park tune. The fairly crude use of this film device, employing cigarettes, telephones, and soccer for “continuity,” adds to the overall violence of the film.
Kavtaradze uses a cool, emotionless, black, blue, and white color palate for the majority of scenes shot within the prison cells and the hospital ward. Those colors are transferred to a number of animated sequences depicting a wide range of scenes, from beatings to a trial. Kavtaradze’s use of medium blending, combining live action with anime, has more in common with Tarantino’s Kill Bill than with Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (with which it has been compared, albeit unfavorably, by Stas Tyrkin). Like Saakashvili, accused of behaving like an ugly American (“Guantanamo in Tbilisi”), Kavtaradze may have become too attached to the Americans: his inserted animated sequences feel foreign and add to the sense of artificiality of the film.
The use of counterpoint between visuals and music may seem blasphemous, but is equally borrowed and derivative. One of the most violent beatings in the prison cell is filmed in live action to an Orthodox chant sung in polyphonic voices, “I am weary, come to me, Oh Lord,” from a radio broadcast of a prayer service by the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia II, while another long sequence of imagined violence is paired with the second movement, Allegretto, from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which has been used in a number of films of violence and apocalypse. It is significant that the violence imagined to Beethoven here is the torture suffered by saints and martyrs. Clockwork Orange will come to mind (both novel and film), but Georgian cinema has its own examples of this trope as well, most importantly, the crucifixion of Sandro Barateli in Tengiz Abuladze’s Repentance, shot to “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
In his MIFF Press Conference on June 25, Kavtaradze suggested he had “aestheticized” the violence he had witnessed personally while in prison. Unfortunately, the film remains somewhat in limbo between the ugly reality of what transpired in Georgia in the last several years and the technical quality and sophistication of “aestheticized violence” of many films shot in the West in this genre.
In its World Report 2013, Amnesty International gives the following advice to the Georgians:
Georgia’s new government needs to rectify the troubling human rights problems it inherited. In addressing past abuses, the government should avoid politically motivated prosecutions, ensure public scrutiny of its actions, and make the worst abuses a top priority. (“Georgia…”, HRW 31 Jan. 2013)
While debate continues about many of the events, footage, and individuals involved in the prison scandal or its exposure, Georgia’s new Prime Minister, Ivanishvili, claims Georgian prisons are now, as of August of 2013, “like sanatoriums.” To which one blogger, Guest #896, responded, “Then send all Georgian citizens to the ‘sanatorium’” (Piatnitskaia ). Let us hope that further screenings, reviews, and responses to this film will lead toward the eradication of torture and violence in prisons throughout the world rather than toward more political vendetta and politically motivated prejudice.
George Mason University
1] One cannot ignore the date and time of the detailed article about the broadcast of these tapes and the crimes of Saakashvili by Grishin at 7 a.m. on the following day.
2] Fairly factual reporting on these events can be found in Civil.ge Daily News Online.
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Akhvlediani, Mikhail, “Do serediny s”emok moia zhena dumala, chto ia snimaius’ v komedii,” MIFF Press conference, Bespredel, 25 June 2013.
Bolkvadze, Mari, “Budni uznikov”: v prokat vyshel fil’m ‘Koma’ ob uzhasakh gruzinskikh tiurem,” 24 Mir, 22 June 2013.
“Georgia: New Government Should Make Rights a Priority,” Human Rights Watch 31 January 2013.
“Georgia,” Human Rights Watch.
Grishin, Aleksandr, “Guantanamo v Tbilisi,” Komsomol’skaia Pravda 19 September 2013 7:59 a.m.
Piatnitskaia, Sasha, “Ivanishvili: Segodniashnie tiur’my v Gruzii mozhno nazvat’ sanatoriiami,” Komsomol’skaia Pravda 22 August 2013.
“Prison System Minister Resigns,” Civil Georgia, Tbilisi, 10 September 2013.
Tyrkin, Stas, “Georgian ‘Bespredel’,” Komsomol’skaia Pravda 25 June 2013.
“Videos of Inmates Abuse, Rape Emerge,” Civil Georgia, Tbilisi, 19 September 2012.
Coma / Bespredel / Disorder
2013, Color, Georgia
Original language: Georgian
Director: Archil Kavtaradze
Screenwriter: Archil Kavtaradze, Lasha Bughadze
Cinematographer: Konstantin Esadze
Editor: Levan Kukhashvili
Cast: Giorgi Maskhulia, Jano Izoria, Mikhail Akhvlediani
Music: Nika Machaidze, Gio Tsintsadze
Film Production and Sales: Vato Kavtaradze, Windmill Production (Georgia)
Archil Kavtaradze: Disorder (Koma/Bespredel, 2013)
reviewed by Julie Christensen © 2013