Issue 47 (2015)

Levan Koguashvili: Blind Dates (Brma Paemnebi, Georgia, 2013)

reviewed by Peter Rollberg© 2015

blinddatesTwo men in their early forties are waiting at a Tbilisi bus station. They are expecting two young women from Gori with whom they have arranged a blind date. Despite cell phones and detailed planning, however, the double date falters when only one of the women shows up. In a cheap hotel room, neither Sandro (Andro Sakhvarelidze) nor Lali (Marika Antadze), his female companion, manage to overcome their awkwardness. Nonetheless, they agree to meet again.

The opening scenes of Levan Koguashvili’s Blind Dates set the tone for the first half of this offbeat comedy, superbly scripted by Boris Frumin (with whom the director worked on his previous feature) and Koguashvili himself. But the frustrations of middle-age dating are just one motif in this highly original film. A related issue is the incessant blows dealt to male identity in a society that is outwardly patriarchal but where men can no longer sustain the normative roles of feeder, provider, and figure of authority. The film’s main character, Sandro, is a teacher who still lives with his parents. He is shy, not due to inexperience but rather to an intrinsic decency and an adherence to traditional rules that are appealing in their naïvete, but also doomed because they are so anachronistic. Sandro’s friend Iva (Archil Kikodze), a former soccer star, works as a women’s coach at Sandro’s high school. Iva tries to keep up the façade of a self-confident flirt but turns out even more uncomfortable in his personal relationships than his friend. Sandro’s authoritarian parents, constantly interrogating the no-longer-young man about his marriage plans and every interaction with women, are part of the problem, as well as a source of very amusing debates.

There is something unthreatening about Sandro that makes women like him, but he never uses this quality to his advantage, either because he is unaware of it or because he feels a sense of chivalry that forbids any sort of exploitation. Ultimately, Sandro’s indecisiveness puts an end to all attempts at forming a lasting bond with any of the women he meets. Rather immaturely, he and Iva regularly resort to old bachelors’ habits, indulging in drunken debauchery rather than showing consistency toward the women who sincerely care about them. Manana (Ia Sukhitashvili), the one woman who seems to be made for Sandro, is waiting for her husband, a small-time career criminal named Tengo (Vakho Chachanidze), to be released from jail. Upon release, Tengo immediately tries to cheat mourning acquaintances out of money which leads to another arrest and likely jail term. Sandro makes a serious attempt to fight for Manana, but the unsuspecting Tengo skillfully takes advantage of his competitor’s quiet yet uncompromising sense of duty. The fact that Sandro allows Tengo—a dishonorable coward—to abuse his dutifulness only deepens his dilemma further: in the end, Sandro agrees to take care of Tengo’s pregnant lover, a refugee. The sad and witty story of Sandro, Manana, and Tengo dominates the film’s second half, which offers wonderful insights into the complex functioning of social bonds between rank-and-file Georgians.

blinddatesKoguashvili’s sensitive, low-key direction captures the state of Georgian society through a close look at gender relations. Without ever deriding the male characters or resorting to cheap clowning, the joke is nonetheless mostly on the men. Desperately seeking ways to overcome their disorientation, the men pursue solutions that are all dead-end roads. Just as in Koguashvili’s previous films (especially the excellent Women from Georgia), it is the women who keep the lights on in a society caught up in perpetual crisis: they work hard, raise children without husbands who abandon them or are serving time in prison, and keep looking for a man deserving of their love and loyalty. And they love soccer, arguably Georgia’s most favorite sport for a century and an indisputable male domain. The women in Blind Dates are passionate about the game, play it well, and understand its intricacies, much to the astonishment of the men who watch it on television with them. All the female characters, from the divorced Lali in the opening scene to Manana, the refugee Natia, and Lali’s blind friend who ultimately travels from Gori to the next—yes, indeed—“blind” date, display an angelic tolerance toward their male partners and their troubles, but seem more determined, albeit melancholically so, rather than confused. These and other subtle shifts in gender relations are observed without ire or didacticism, but with unobtrusive compassion for all involved parties.

blinddatesApart from its superb plot, Blind Dates has some visually memorable moments. For instance, when Sandro and Iva take their lady-friends to a deserted sea spa on a windy November day, while partying at a forlorn table next to the kiosk selling cheap wine and food, they use a plastic tablecloth as cover under which they chat and joke as if these were the walls of a cozy restaurant. This image of improvised intimacy breathes genuine joy and hope, despite all struggles. 

Together with Zaza Urushadze and George Ovashvili, Koguashvili belongs to a group of filmmakers who initiated a new and powerful start in Georgian cinema after it underwent an existential crisis in the 1990s and early 2000s. Koguashvili has demonstrated his aptitude in documentary (Women from Georgia, 2008) and grim social drama (Street Days [Quchis dgeebi], 2010). Blind Dates is a tender film, more forgiving and warmer than its predecessor. It shares with Koguashvili’s other pictures a fascination with painful real-life dilemmas and a highly developed perceptiveness for psychological ambiguity and half-tones.

Peter Rollberg
The George Washington University

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Blind Dates, Georgia, 2013
Color, 99 minutes.
Screenplay: Boris Frumin, Levan Koguashvili
Director: Levan Koguashvili
DoP: Tato Kotetishvili
Cast: Andro Sakhvarelidze, Ia Sukhitashvili, Archil Kikodze, Vakho Chachanidze, Kakhi Kavsadze
Production Design Kote Japaridze
Producers: Levan Koguashvili, Ketevan Machavariani, Suliko Tsulukidze, Olena Yershova
Production: Kino Iberian, Millimeter Film, Georgian National Film Center

Levan Koguashvili: Blind Dates (Brma Paemnebi, Georgia, 2013)

reviewed by Peter Rollberg© 2015