Running Time: 103 mins.
Rated: Rated M
Writer and first-time director, Julie Bertucelli, must love Georgia and its people. We discover she is French but had worked as an assistant to Kieslowski, Bertollucci and to Iosselliani with whom she spent six months filming in Tiblisi. She got to know it well.
The setting is the early 1990s. Independence is new and the bureaucracies are not used to it at all. Three generations of women share a house, especially since Otar (the son who had started out as a medical student but who is in Paris illegally seeking work on building sites) left for France.
We see Otar only in photographs and hear his voice on the phone.
The film is the portrait of the three women, each of whom is excellent in her own way. The focal performance is that of Esther Gorontin as the grandmother, a strong and determined woman if ever there was one, often contemptuous of her widowed daughter, relying on her seemingly mousey granddaughter. The performance does not seem like acting but is totally real and credible. She was 90 when she made the film!
Nina Khomassouridze is the extraverted daughter, in perpetual exasperation with her mother. Dinara Droukarova is the granddaughter. As a portrait of a family, it is quite absorbing. However, the two younger women are faced with a dilemma of whether to give news of Otar to the old lady. The mother opts to conceal the truth and her daughter has to go along with it. The consequences are completely unexpected, leading to a visit to Paris to find Otar.
Audiences will find the visit to these three women, the opening up of the world of Georgia which has lived through Stalinism (he was from Georgia) and the communist era and has learned to live with lies and deception, fascinating and entertaining.
Since Otar Left was the winner of the first SIGNIS award at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, April 2004.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.