Issue 66 (2019)

Rusudan Glurjidze: House of Others (Skhvisi sakhli, Georgia, 2016)

reviewed by Sera Passerini © 2019

House of OthersHouse of Others is the first feature film from director Rusudan Glurjidze. The film won multiple festival awards, including the Grand Prix in the East of the West competition at Karlovy Vary IFF; it was also Georgia’s submission to the 89th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. The emotional drama depicts the stories of two families after the civil war of the 1990s. Leaving the city as victims of the war, the two families struggle with building new lives in Abkhazia, where they move into abandoned properties. They find their former lives lost, whilst coming into contact with the lives of those families whose houses they now inhabit, which makes a kind of ghost story for the viewer. House of Others depicts the effects of the war in an attempt to strike up a conversation about the conflict and portray the struggle that so many people faced in its wake.

The film begins with one of the families, made up of Astamur, his wife Liza and two children, as they arrive at their new home with Ginger, an intimidating man who has decided to sell abandoned properties in Abkhazia to those who wish to relocate. The neighbors, a family of women only, consists of Ira, the head of the household, and her sister Azida and the niece Nata. Ira appears rigid and masculine. The two families do not interact often and there is a sense of distrust between them. Nevertheless, the two children become friends and together explore other abandoned buildings, while their parents continue navigating the empty village.

House of OthersThe interest in the film does not come from the plot, but rather the intense emotion of the families, their isolation and their interaction with remnants of a past that are not their own. Focusing on the characters and their strained relationship to the past makes for an interesting dynamic that forms an independent story. Without knowing much about each individual’s past, the viewer is entwined in a curiosity about whether they will remain in a form of limbo or find comfort and a new life. Although filming in Abkhazia was not possible, Glurjidze found the perfect location in a remote area of Georgia. In using an abandoned village, House of Others shows a very real, raw image of a past conflict and the track to recovery. In addition to using scenery and buildings as similar as possible to the time, many members of the cast and crew experienced the conflict in Abkhazia firsthand, like Salome Demuria, who plays Ira. Glurjidze describes that in casting people who know this pain, they do not “need any additional comments to give them and understand the story” (Glurjidze). The emotion that the characters bring to the screen drives the film.

House of OthersThe women in this film are highlighted as pillars of their families, trying to push their lives forward. Ira, as head of her household, takes on a more masculine role—threatening men, sharpshooting tangerines off trees, and generally running the lives of her sister and niece. Liza, in a different way, tries to create a new life for herself and her family in this strange place. She tells Astamur that she enjoys the new place, and she suggests to make money and pay back Ginger for their relocation. Astamur, on the other hand, is too stuck in the past to want to move forward. He becomes frustrated with Liza when she moves the furniture that was in the house prior to their arrival. In his mind, she was not supposed to touch anything. The women, particularly the heads of the household, Ira and Liza, have their minds set on creating a new life and moving on from the war. Astamur, Azida and the children seem stuck, wanting to remain in a state of transition or return to their previous lives—without really living in the present. After this change, both families end up running back to their former lives, leaving the houses abandoned once again.

These characters who look back on their lives and go through their lives in a haze are depicted quite literally in shots made through mirrors, fog, and broken panes of glass. Their existence in Abkhazia feels dreamlike. At the beginning, Astamur, Liza and their children arrive at the house in the rain, in a car with a broken windshield. The cinematography takes advantage of the mirrors located in the house, and depicts not only the characters differently, but also entraps them within objects.

House of OthersAdditionally, the colors and the shot composition isolate the families and individuals, placing them in a spectral state of being. The majority of scenes are dark and filled with once-useful things, some reliant on a single kerosene lamp to light up the characters’ faces. The characters are frequently shadowy, fading into the background. While there is some music in the film, most sounds—the echoes of birdcalls in the fields, the gentle creaking of the floorboards, even Azida and Nata playfully screaming—push the tone of the film to haunting and isolating. These are not the sounds of life, but of a liminal space in which these two families live.

Although the film does not tell a concrete story, the density and force of these feelings is what makes House of Others so intriguing. The narrative is not the purpose of the film: the focus is on the effects of the conflict and how to move forward. Parallel to the real-life situation of many people from Abkhazia, these stories are of people who once hoped to be able to return home and carry on with their lives—a goal that the two families are unable to achieve. Beyond the dusty mirrors and creaky floorboards, these families of survivors do not exist. Trying to find their way forward or back in their lives creates a tension that is captured artfully in House of Others and forces the viewer into the deep emotions of the characters of the film.

Sera Passerini
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

Glurjidze, Rusudan. 2016. ‘Rusudan Glurjidze. Director: Interview’. Cineuropa  

 


House of Others, Georgia, Russia, Spain, Croatia, 2016.
Color, 102 minutes
Director: Rusudan Glurjidze
Script: Rusudan Glurjidze, David Chubinishvili
DoP: Gorka Gomez Andreu
Music: Dusan Maksimovsky, Alexey Vorobyov
Editing: Grigol Palavandishvili, Dmitri Chistyakov, Levan Koukhashvili
Cast: Zurab Magalashvili, Olga Dykhovichnaya, Ia Sukhitashvili, Salome Demuria, Ekaterine Japaridze, Branko Djurich, Alexander Khundadze, Malkhaz Jorbenadze
Producers: Zurab Magalashvili, Nadezhda Gorshkova, Katerina Gecmen-Waldeck
Production Companies: Cinetech Film, Liga Production, Kinoscopik, SARKE Group, Embrio

Rusudan Glurjidze: House of Others (Skhvisi sakhli, Georgia, 2016)

reviewed by Sera Passerini © 2019

Updated: 2019