Issue 62 (2018)

Levan Koguashvili: Gogita’s New Life (Gogitas akhali tckovreba, Georgia, 2016)

reviewed by Dušan Radunović © 2018

Films and Facts, Georgian style

Documentary filmmaking assumes a privileged position in the history of Georgian cinema. Its embryonic moments were marked by the documentary recordings of the Baku-based Georgian photographer Vasil Amashukeli (1886–1977) and the subsequent manifestoes and cinematic practices of filmmakers like Nikoloz Shengelaia, Mikheil Kalatozishvili, Nutsa Gogoberidze and others interrogated the relationship between the visual document and reality and the transformative role of cinematic editing. Despite the crisis of non-fiction cinema in the Stalin era and beyond, the rhetoric of the documentary genre persisted in Georgian Soviet cinema, to receive a new lease of life in the films of the 1950s and 1960s, first in those of Rezo Chkheidze and Tengiz Abuladze and then in the works of Otar Ioseliani.

gogitaArguably the most distinctive voice of new Georgian cinema, Levan Koguashvili is rightly considered the heir to this tradition. Koguashvili first attracted international attention with his captivating fly-on-the-wall documentary Women from Georgia (2008), a film that intertwines the life-stories of Georgian immigrants in suburban New York to create an at once poignant and humorous tale about migration, homelessness and longing for a better life. The transition to feature film earned Koguashvili international acclaim. The films Street Days (Kuchis dgeebi, 2010) and Blind Dates (Brma paemnebi, 2013) showcase, again, the author’s interest in the exploration of the everyday. Indeed, both of his feature films are intimate and socially engaged portraits of the so-called common people, social misfits who struggle to adapt to turbulent times and/or conform to the societal, economic or family  norms.

gogitaKoguashvili’s third full-length film Gogita’s New Life revisits many of its author’s preoccupations. The film opens in the Rustavi state prison, the largest penitentiary institution in Georgia, where we meet the film’s eponymous protagonist, Gogita Chitishvili, who is serving a 14 years sentence for nothing but a petty crime. Gogita, the viewer knows from the start, is an archetypal Koguashvili character: a man who doesn’t fit, a modern-day homo sacer against whose fate the social ills are revealed in broad daylight. Therefore, the viewer also knows that the tale about Gogita will be the tale about his social context. In the opening scene, following Gogita’s release from prison, we learn from one of his fellow-villagers that Gogita has served his sentence because he had no one to pull the right strings for him, while the main perpetrators got away with the robbery. Koguashvili’s camera further estranges the intimacy of the homecoming scene to add a commentary of its own – by minutely cutting to the details of the villagers’ lives to reveal to the viewer the disheveled conditions they all live in.

gogitaGogita’s life after imprisonment takes various directions: he repairs the house, cultivates the land, keeps the bees, takes interest in Latin Dance competitions and, most importantly, decides to get married. Gogita meets Maka, a cake-maker in her late 30s, through one of the dating websites. Attraction develops, but, alas, Maka fails to conform to Gogita’s mother’s expectations. While Gogita’s resistance to his mother’s derisory comments about Maka testifies to his attempts to emancipate from sexist and patriarchal normativity about the concept of beauty, his determination is quickly shattered. During his first encounter with Maka in the seaside resort of Batumi, Gogita breaks his betrothal vows. Here, the dramaturgy of the film also changes and, from a quiet observer, Koguashvili becomes a more active participant  in the narrative. For example, as Gogita desperately roams the streets of Batumi some of the city’s landmarks function as reminders of his own fate: from the monument to the tragic lovers Ali and Nino, to head-in-hole board with an empty space for the female figure (the latter sight will prompt Gogita to change his mind yet again and finally reunite with Maka). In another fine moment, Gogita’s reunion with Maka is staged underneath the monument to the 11th-12th-century Georgian king David the Builder, a man whose strong rule marked the restoration of Georgian statehood and enabled the period of stability.

gogitaIn Gogita’s New Life Koguashvili’s use of the non-fiction genre somewhat departs from the documentary style of his earlier Women from Georgia. While the author’s earlier film conforms to traditional requirements of the genre, to film real people in real, uncontrolled situations, in Gogita’s New Life Koguashvili strives to regulate and control the narrative to a far greater extent. In a self-reflexive manner, Gogita’s New Life offers a catalogue of documentary devices in which the filmmaker’s role oscillates from that of an objective observer who is only revealing the spontaneous flow of events, to someone who orchestrates these events. At times, Koguashvili will stage Gogita’s confessions about his feelings and life plans and, at times, he would engage in complex visual juxtapositions with the primary, factual level of the narrative. For example, in a scene at the barber’s, the camera captures the fridge magnets depicting Stalin and the American pop icon Britney Spears side by side. The immediate effect of this juxtaposition is unquestionably humorous, but the viewer also sees it as an emblem of Georgia’s strandedness between totalitarian past and  Western consumerism. One is driven to the conclusion that Gogita’s New Life should be watched with double lenses: one for the simple factual tale about the film’s protagonist and the other for the more complex narrative fabric of the film, which sees the documentary material transformed into multifaceted semantic blocks.

Having resorted to one such approach, Koguashvili may have compromised his youth commitment to an unadulterated documentary style, but in return, he has seized some new, fertile territories. Relinquishing the supposed immediacy of the observational documentary or cinéma vérité tradition, he assumes a more active authorial position and carefully places his characters and their actions in recognizable social and historical environs. By so doing, the author happily admits that he has no faith in the notion of pure and unmanipulated reality, and that the destiny of his protagonist is always inseparable from his/her social circumstances. In a perhaps unintended historical loop, this testimonial places Koguashvili in even closer dialogue with the pioneers of Soviet and, especially, Georgian documentary tradition of filmmaking, Dziga Vertov, Esfir’ Shub, Kalatozishvili and others.

Dušan Radunović
Durham University

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Gogita’s New Life, Russia, Ukraine, Croatia, Georgia, Germany, 2016
Color, 71 minutes, 16:9, Dolby 5.1
Director: Levan Koguashvili
Story: Levan Koguashvili
Editing: Elene Asatiani
DoP: Gigi Samsonadze, Mikho Sturua
Sound Design: Dario Domitrovic, Dusan Maksimovski
Cast: Gela Chitishvili, Gogita Chitishvili, Nunu Chitishvili, Nona Gurgenidze, Guliko Sadradze, Maka Sanikidze
Producers: Boris Frumin, Levan Koguashvili, Irakli Rodonaya, Temur Ugulava
Co-Producers: Olena Yershova, Armen Zuloyan, Dario Domitrovic
Production: Georgian National Film Centre, Moskvich Films, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR), Embrio Production, Georgian Public Broadcasting, Kino Iberica, Tato Film

Levan Koguashvili: Gogita’s New Life (Gogitas akhali tckovreba, Georgia, 2016)

reviewed by Dušan Radunović © 2018

Updated: 2018