I will start with not an original question - according to what do we evaluate the film in general, what do we pay the most attention to: "what" or "how?”
If to "what" - then "Wet Sand" (2021) by Elene Naveriani is a wonderful film, with an acute problem, which today has become a leading trend not only in the world, but also in Georgian cinema, despite the fact that society still closes its eyes to it and does not enjoy talking about it much. The gravity of difference, especially when it comes to the sexual side of life, still demands to be brought out from behind the scenes and onto the stage.
The drama unfolding in a Georgian coastal village should show the Georgian audience how hard it is to live with a mask all your life, to hide your nature, desires, needs, how much of a burden it is to try to be like everyone else when you are not. And if you don’t follow the rules of the game at least a little bit, if you seem a bit "strange" to the fellow villagers, what attitude is there – sarcastic, flouted, distanced and this is up to a certain limit of "strangeness," and after crossing these limits, rejection and confrontation become much more serious.
But it is necessary to fight to strengthen one's self, not suppress it. The struggle always has sense and results – the authors assure us.
The plot of the film contains everything that describes this circumstance, highlights its every facet: different types of characters – a former sailor Eliko (Tengo Javakhadze), banished from the community because of his "strangeness;" Amnon (Gia Agumava), the owner of the bar, established in the environment at the expense of suppressing his own nature, always "in concealment;" Dato (Zaal Goguadze), a clear image of the aggressive guardian of traditions, already formed as a cliché in the public consciousness, who kisses his wife in the film every now and again but if the occasion calls for it, he will not back down from physically assaulting her; the "city" policeman (Giorgi Tsereteli), who seems to be more "aware" and this is confirmed by his duty but he is not too far from the villagers’ consciousness; old understandings put into a younger and more attractive "wineskin;" a fisherman Spero (Kakha Kobaladze), as a symbol of pure faith and trust; "Fleshka" (Megi Gogitidze), a "strange" but lovely girl who, according to the villagers, was "born in someone else's body;" Eliko's grandson Meo (Bebe Sesitashvili), an "alien" from the city, with strange appearance and clothes, with unusually free behavior, directness; Dato's wife Neli (Eka Chavleishvili), who is the only one among the neighbors to have personal characteristics - a woman who is raised in the circle of hard-hearted "understanding" and brought up with it, but with more empathy, which leaves room for change, and the rest of the villagers, women and men who play the role of the "chorus," earnestly utter the phrases desired by the author, but none of them can be remembered as an image.
These characters tell us a rather difficult and "unpleasant" story: two suicides, a terrible reversal of an equally strong tradition - respect for the dead - in the name of protecting morality... However, here, the ability of young people to discover the power of resistance in themselves and to establish themselves.
But here we have to remember the second part of the question – "how" – and immediately a number of problems arise.
The message is good, but it needs to be delivered to the audience, to get into the space of their perception, to touch their emotions, and this is hindered by a number of inconveniences.
The film is made in the manner of existential realism, but existence leaves a sense of sham. They tell us that this is one of the seaside Georgian villages but for some reason I find it hard to believe and perceive it as a village. The movie tells me that the café "Wet Sand" has been a gathering place for the villagers for years, where they feel at home, and I still don't believe it. The cafe guests fill the space as living props but they are unable to give life to the scenes and remain only props, etc. The film is overloaded with this phrase "I don't believe it."
I do not believe in the reality of the discussion around the issue of burying the body. For example, the disgusting phrase about the deceased: "Let's throw him in the garbage or feed him to the dogs, after all, they will have him for a year." What’s more, it is expressed with a completely neutral intonation. There is no irony, no sarcasm, no anger, no humor in it, which would make it at least a little bit perceptible. It seems that the actor uses force to himself in order to utter a phrase deliberately written by the author in the script and he cannot achieve this goal.
It does not matter for a foreign viewer. For him, the environment depicted only at the level of functions is equally exotic, naturalistic or minimalistic. As well as dubbing, which for the foreign viewer only serves as a carrier of content and information, however, the Georgian audience, first of all, catches the falsity of the intonation, the unnaturalness of the phrase. Because of this, the information largely loses its effectiveness and goes back to "I don't believe."
The clearest proof of this is Amnon’s case; for this role a non-professional actor, Gia Agumava, was awarded the prize for the best performance of a male role at the Locarno International Film Festival. His hero's long pauses, the mask on his face, with which he hides his emotions, are really believable when he is silent, but it is enough for him to utter something, the feeling of unnaturalness and stiffness becomes difficult for the Georgian audience to overcome. However, it is imperceptible to foreign ears and the award is fully deserved.
Also, unnatural intonations cut the ear in the second character, Meo’s acting. Not only does the intonation of episodic characters sounds fake but the phrases themselves are even more fake.
The clear construction of the film, intended to express a message, mentally raises questions about the characters’ names as well. Where do such strange names come from? They are so strange for the Georgian province that it is impossible not to read the author’s purposefulness and start searching. Why is the man called Eliko? To emphasize his feminine nature? Is this a name or a nickname given by fellow villagers? Probably not, but then why Eliko?
For the rest, one way or another, the supposed source was found. The name, Amnon (Amon) leads to the king of Judea, during whose reign idolatry spread in the state.
Moe – of its several references, perhaps the closest to the essence is the meaning of American urban slang – an address that you can call anyone, instead of an actual name. To say "imano" in our way, meaning someone who doesn't even have a real name, is so generalized.
Spero - Italian for "I hope" (from Latin "I believe," "I trust," "I expect"). He is really waiting for his boy who got lost at sea years ago.
However, who knows how far my search has gone in the right direction. Such a question has never been asked in any interview, and the author herself did not show the desire to explain it.
Unconvincing environment, a static camera, long pauses that tell us nothing; functions strictly distributed to the characters; dialogues and intonations that cut the ears of the Georgian audience – all this creates insurmountable obstacles for the emotional perception of the film.
The finale is positive – Emo and "Fleshka," the new generation, who had only been looking for a way to escape from this world, realize and understand their own life after this tragedy, as well as their own personality and desires. They manage to come out of the shadows, from concealment, find strength, clearly confront intolerance and together open a new "Wet Sand," a cafe in which only foreign guests are at the moment but it seems that the villagers will also appear, a slow boy at the gate is a sign of this.
Unfortunately, the new "Wet Sand" is just as unconvincing as the old. There is no life in the film, there is only a message.
I consider that cinema is a form of activism, says the author of the film. It is clear. But who is activism for? If it is for the Georgian viewers, I doubt that in such a way, with so much falsity and unnaturalness, it will reach their heart and make them think about something, moreover, change their mind. I will end with an unoriginal thought: even if we are told something completely unbelievable, art must be believable. The main thing in the message of art is art, only then it has a chance to reach the addressee.