Issue 60 (2018)

Rezo Gigineishvili: Hostages (Zalozhniki, Georgia, 2017)

reviewed by Andrei Rogatchevski© 2018

Hostages are perhaps best understood in the context of repeated attempts by Soviet citizens of different ethno-religious backgrounds to hijack passenger airplanes to escape from the USSR (as a tragically desperate measure against the restrictions on the freedom of movement), and the subsequent documentary and feature films about such attempts.

zalozhnikiThe failed plan to hijack an AN-2 aircraft in June 1970 by a group of Jewish activists wishing to leave the Soviet Union for Israel (the so-called Dymshits-Kuznetsov affair) became the subject of two documentaries, How to Escape from the USSR (Kak sbezhat’ iz SSSR, 2010) by Vitalii Skorodumov, and Operation Wedding (Israel/Latvia, 2016, with dialogues mostly in English and Hebrew) by Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov, the daughter of two of the hijackers. The hijacking of an AN-24 plane by the Lithuanian father and son Brazinskases in October 1970, and its diversion from Batumi (Georgian SSR) to Turkey after the killing of the flight attendant Nadezhda Kurchenko was turned into the feature film The Matriculant (Abiturientka, 1973; dir. Aleksei Mishurin), shot in Soviet Ukraine and partly in Ukrainian language. The attempt by the Ovechkin family to hijack a TU-154 in March 1988, resulting in nine deaths, was dealt with in several films, most notably in the 1989 documentary There Were Seven Simeons (Zhili-byli sem’ Simeonov) by Herz Frank and Vladimir Eisner, as well as Denis Evstigneev’s feature film Mama (1999).

Hostages, filmed in a mixture of Russian and Georgian by a Georgia-born director, known for his comedies and professional and personal links to Fedor Bondarchuk and the Mikhalkovs, describes the unsuccessful hijacking in November 1983 of a TU-134 in Tbilisi, which cost seven lives. The hijacking was undertaken by a group of seven young people from privileged families, including the promising thespian German (Gega) Kobakhidze, who had acted since childhood and gained a part in Tengiz Abuladze’s famous Repentance (Monanieba, 1984; Kobakhidze’s scenes in the film subsequently had to be re-shot with another actor). All of the hijackers—with the exception of one woman, Tinatin Petviashvili—either died in the attack or were executed after their trial. Their plight was shared by the priest Teimuraz Chikhladze, whom the investigation accused of being the instigator of the action, even though he was not on the plane himself.

zalozhnikiThese events remain controversial in Georgia to the present day. Some tend to see the hijackers as fighters against the Soviet oppression (there is even a street in Tbilisi named after one of them, the artist Soso Tsereteli); others, especially the surviving passengers, would rather speak of the hijackers as ordinary terrorists. The role of the then First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, Eduard Shevardnadze, who later became Mikhail Gorbachev’s Foreign Minister (1985–90) and Georgia’s second President (1995–2003), is also much debated. It has been suggested that he pushed for the death sentences for the hijackers in order to appear resolute to the party leadership in Moscow. Zaza Rusadze’s documentary Bandits (2003) presents a well-balanced factual view of the affair, based on interviews with Petviashvili (sentenced to fifteen years but amnestied in 1991 by the first Georgian President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia), Kobakhidze’s mother, Chikhladze’s daughter, the hijackers’ friends and several passengers.

Following the tradition manifest in The Matriculant and Mama, Hostages changes many of the real-life circumstances and participants’ names (a standard procedure for a semi-fictionalised script, wherever it is devised). However, contrary to The Matriculant (geared towards sympathy for the stewardess victim, whose life story takes center stage) and Mama (partially excusing the hijackers by, for example, inventing their disabled family member who is told that doctors in the West may cure him), Hostages demonstrates compassion for both the hijackers and their victims. To quote the film’s Polish co-producer Ewa Puszczyńska, all its characters are “hostages to the system” (Laletina 2017).

zalozhnikiHostages focus primarily on the love relationship between Kobakhidze (called Nika in the film; this role is played by the handsome debutant Irakli Kvirikadze) and Petviashvili (here called Anna and played by Tinatin Dalakishvili, memorable for a leading role in Anna Melikian’s melodrama The Star (Zvezda 2014). The emphasis on the prototypes’ and characters’ youthfulness, attractive looks, devotion for each other and talent (the nineteen-year old Petviashvili studied architecture at the time) makes the viewer feel extremely sorry for the way they wasted their own and others’ lives, especially because the reasons for their determination to escape are not presented clearly enough. The film also strives to diminish the hijackers’ culpability by, for example, lessening the number of their victims (a public funeral ceremony for only two airplane crew members is shown, whereas in fact there were three of them killed).

The film’s moral lesson is expressed in Anna’s last words at her trial: “No amount of freedom is worth the life of another person”. These words are actually borrowed from Petviashvili’s interview in Rusadze’s Bandits; what she really said in 1984 in court was “I feel guilty. […] There’s nothing to be proud of. […] I regret it all.” Remarkably, for their part, the authorities in charge did not seem to feel obliged to act humanely towards not only the hijackers (the pregnant Petviashvili, once arrested, had to undergo a forced abortion), but also the hostages (upon its landing at Tbilisi airport, the hijacked plane was sprayed with dozens of bullets by the army unit summoned to guard the runway).

These details, left out of Hostages, are kept in Bandits, and they are not unique to the Georgian SSR of the early 1980s. It looks as if there is a kind of Soviet pattern of cruelty meted out to hijackers (or terrorists in general) and hostages alike. In 1970, Kuznetsov and Dymshits (the ringleaders of the Jewish hijacking attempt) were sentenced to capital punishment, even though lives could not have been lost in their case, as the conspirators had been apprehended in advance of the planned action; only a direct intervention by President Nixon (in a telephone call to Brezhnev) is rumored to have saved them from the execution. In 1988, in front of Frank’s and Eisner’s camera, several hostages recalled how “sadistically” they had been beaten up by the police in the process of their rescue from the Ovechkins (this particular bit, unlike many others in the Ovechkins’ true story, has not been altered in Evstigneev’s film). In the light of such precedents, the high number of casualties among hostages during the Dubrovka (2002) and Beslan (2004) crises may not appear too surprising. Are Frank and Eisner right in saying, then, in There Were Seven Simeons, that “evil begets evil”?

Gigineishvili’s Hostages neither poses nor answers this question, opting for empathy in preference to an analysis. The film was awarded the 2017 Kinotavr prize for the best directing, which illustrates that such an approach has its advantages and fans.

Andrei Rogatchevski
UiT – the Arctic University of Norway

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Works Cited

Laletina, Anna. 2017 “'Zalozhniki' na Berlinale: istoriia o begstve iz sovetskogo raia.” BBC Russian Service 18 February.



Hostages, Georgia/Russia/Poland, 2017
Color, 103 minutes
Director: Rezo Gigineishvili
Scriptwriter: Lasha Bugadze, Rezo Gigineishvili
Director of Photography: Vladislav Opeliants
Production Design: Kote Dzhaparidze, Fedor Saveliev
Costume: Tinatin Kvinikadze
Music: Giya Kancheli
Sound: Kirill Vasilenko
Editing: Andrei Gamov, Jaroslaw Kamiński
Cast: Irakli Kvirikadze, Tinatin Dalakishvili, Merab Ninidze, Nadezhda Mikhalkova
Producers: Mikhail Finogenov, Boris Frumin, Vladimir Kacharava, Ewa Puszczyńska, Tamara Tatishvili, etc.
Production: 20 Steps Productions, Extreme Emotions, Kinokompaniia Nebo, Inkfilm

Rezo Gigineishvili: Hostages (Zalozhniki, 2017)

reviewed by Andrei Rogatchevski© 2018

Updated: 2018