Salome Jashi: Bakhmaro (2011)

reviewed by Teo Khatiashvili © 2011


Beyond Time and Space

bakhmaro“They sit and wait”—this quotation comes to mind while watching Salome Jashi’s new documentary Bakhmaro. Afterwards, I remembered separate static frames of the film. The inhabitants of the former hotel Bakhmaro, which is a multifunctional building now, just sit and wait. To a certain extent the surrealistic, Kafkaesque environment is not created by the director’s imagination—it is reality, everyday life, so usual for the locals and so unusual for the spectator. The entire infrastructure of the district center is contained in this building: the local administration, offices of various political parties (the Conservative Party is referred to only in the inscription on the façade and soon replaced by the Christian-Democratic Party), refugee shelters and a restaurant, a food market and the hairdresser’s. Even the Chinese have reached this god-forsaken, deserted place with their cheap goods: a red lantern hanging in front of the Chinese shop adds a final stroke to the kitschy composition of the façade.

bakhmaroSalome Jashi chooses the position of an observer: she keeps a distance and does not rush the spectator or speculate with his/her sentiments. The camera freezes on the façade for several minutes at the beginning of the film. During the entire film the camera keeps staring at this or that object: its lens seems to be speechless and amazed at the hardships it observes. It is like the characters of the film who stare out of the window and communicate with one another through short comments. Neither time nor space exist here, in the claustrophobic building where even a dog lying in a dark corridor has lost the desire to move. Completely static frames reflect the atmosphere of time frozen. Yet it seems that the authors of the film (the director and cinematographer) sometimes over-emphasize the wonderful manner of expressing the problem of things static and the local environment. The spectator involuntarily joins the viewing process, since nothing changes for an hour; the viewer commences a thorough study of the people and the environment. Confronted with observation, one wishes for the camera to move a little to the side, albeit slowly, so that one cannot guess how the position has shifted and so we may better observe the room of the music circle, the white grand piano, the leg of which can be seen in the corner of the frame and which is perceived as a kitschy, surrealistic element in an environment that would be better suited for red and green phosphorescent lights of a suburban underground restaurant. These colors, in the style of Pedro Almodovar, create an impressive cinematographic picture. However, after some time one starts to wonder whether the director is too engrossed in observation and thought; a descriptive film turns out to be dramaturgically incoherent. Certainly, it is very hard to reflect a monotonous routine so that the spectator has the sense of absolute immobility and, at the same time, constantly (or periodically) change the angle in a way that remains unnoticed by the spectator. Yet this film starts in one register and ends in the same register.

However, two episodes at the end arouse strong emotions. The Chinese lock up their shop, as their trade is unsuccessful, and move to some other place. In front of the locked door appear the children and an old woman, who is the vendor of a food shop. This time they are observers: for a long time they stare through the glass door in order to find something useful that may have remained inside. The building is also abandoned by the owners of the restaurant. Other people replace them. The faces change, but the composition remains unchanged – other people sit silently at the table decorated with colored napkins. Without any emotion, these people stare at the window, waiting for something...

bakhmaroThere are two different sets of attitudes to social issues in Georgian films of the post-Soviet period: first, a total indifference and neglect that, on the one hand, may be explained by “Socialist Realism” and its demands for a varnished reality and a false ideological rhethoric. On the other hand, a large part of directors avoid reality and seek recluse in their narrow world, as they are unable to adjust to the new reality. Second, views on social issue, such as the fate of refugees, unprotected children in the suburbs, the currently unemployed representatives of the former upper class etc., influence the spectator’s sentiments. These films resemble television reporting, where everything is on the surface—in an unsettled, uncomfortable environment. The stylistics of Bakhmaro is radically different from television reports (which could be noticed in Salome Jashi’s previous films, One of the Ministers (Ert-erti ministry, 2008) and The Leader is Always Right / Patriotic Camp (Lideri koveltvis martalia, 2010). Despite showing a concrete authentic environment, there is no representation of one locality (the title of the film, Bakhmaro, is symptomatic: the name of a famous resort in Georgia, which in this case is not a toponym but the name of a former restaurant). It does not matter whether the action takes place inside the capital or beyond; in any other region or suburb the situation is similar. The social problems of Bakhmaro turn into existential problems; despair, helplessness, the so-called “sadness and unfairness of the unbearable weight of reality” are felt in the silence of the characters. It does not matter in which country this exotic house-Bakhmaro is located (take the Chinese who have fled from even more unbearable conditions and despair): this is a place lost in time and space, with lost people who “sit and wait”.

Teo Khatiashvili


Bakhmaro (documentary), Georgia, 2011
Color, 60 minutes, HD,
Director: Salome Jashi
Cinematography: Salome Jashi
Editing: Derek Howard
Sound: Davit Sikharulidze
Producer: Anna Dziapshipa (Sakdoc Film), Heino Dekert (ma.ja.de. Filmproduktion)
Production: ma.ja.de. filmproduktion in co-production with Sakdoc Film, in association with MDR and YLE, IKON, TVP, ETV2

Salome Jashi: Bakhmaro (2011)

reviewed by Teo Khatiashvili © 2011

Updated: 15 Aug 11