The issue of faith has always been a hot topic in the cinema, as the interest in it grows with the passage of time.
Mikheil Kvirikadze's short film, "Jesus Bird” (“Baptism in the Jordan", 2021) approaches the religious issue from a different angle. In the plot of the film, the director tells us about a swindler who escapes and ends up in a train carriage, where there are 7 children. They think he is a priest because the man is wearing a cross he has won in cards with the priest. He will start a conversation with them taking on the role of a priest and preach about the Lord Christ.
It should be noted that the story takes place in Soviet Georgia, which is also evident in the children's clothing. They are wearing pioneers’ uniform (with a red scarf). All of this is interesting because the Soviet ideology looked at priests in exactly the same way as the director directly portrayed them - liars, swindlers who, in the name of God, steal other people's money and property. In the beginning, there is a feeling that the author wants to remove these myths from the character, tries to ennoble him, although he is not really a priest, so he leaves this role and sacrifices him for "flying" from the train.
Baptism - this is the leitmotif of the entire film. When talking to the "priest," the children often worry about the fact that they are not baptized, that's why the man promises to baptize them in the lake and does so. Latin words "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, amen" are sounded so pathetically by the character that the audience may even laugh, however, when seeing the children, how happy they are standing with closed eyes when being baptized, the emotional picture changes. It is here that the main theme of the film-faith is seen.
One of the main problems is just what the director shows what the film is about almost at the end. The first 15 minutes (the entire film is 27 minutes) may make it unclear to the audience why they are watching "The Train Was Going" turned into an author's film. Mikheil Kvirikadze's film brings to mind Giorgi Shengelaia’s comedy by association. These two movies have a common connection. In both films a swindler is being chased to recover a debt, both main characters have to "disguise" themselves to hide, and in the end, both tell the audience about their faith – Shengelaia about his faith in his homeland, and Kvirikadze- in God. Which is more important is another issue.
"Jesus Bird" is a dualistic film in image and thought. At first glance, it shows philosophical touches on God, man, faith and the methods of walking this path. Using the example of children, the director says that no matter how, the main thing is to find God. Such a thing is really good and mesmerizing but a question arises as a result of careful observation - what kind of Christians will those people become who listen to the word of God from a man disguised as a priest in order to escape from debtors? Of course, they don't know that he is a "hypocrite." It is still dangerous to believe the man who first baptizes and then flirts with the children's pioneer leader. All this is faint, but still remains even in the subconscious of the young woman, towards whom the sympathy of the "priest" was directed.
The film is also "two-faced" in its image. Black and white shots are perceived more "seriously" by the modern world, for which the author clearly strives. A person once said that directors shoot in black and white when they want to say something. Black-and-white shots, on the contrary, do not add to this particular work, because the landscapes and mise-en-scenes presented in it would obviously be more interesting in color (indeed, there are scenes in this film where color would have said something separately). The cliché of black-and-white cinema suppressed this film, put it in the frame of "author's film" and made it more serious than it could have been.
The film with completely sarcastic elements, where the swindler becomes a "priest," baptizes the pioneers, and then the debtors throw him from the train and the pioneer leader who sees it thinks that he has flown, is visually transformed into a deep philosophical cinema of Bergman or Bresson. The director could have used this sarcasm and shown an amazingly funny movie, full of "black humor," but the desire to "Bergmanism" got stronger and he made a movie that is a wonder at first sight, "it's okay" at second sight, and looks like a poorly processed diamond at third sight. Mikheil Kvirikadze could not overcome the "complex" of Georgian cinema, which consists in the fact that he preferred methods recognized as "classical," which are not only outdated, but also unpleasant to watch. Black and white shots, a wide panorama where children are running, the story unfolding in the train, etc. are not interesting anymore.
Despite the kind of closure from the point of view of cinematic side and direction, the main character of this film can undoubtedly be distinguished. In general, the theatrical manner of actors' performances has been a frequent problem in Georgian cinema since time immemorial. The elimination of this has started little by little, a good example of which is the swindler man portrayed by the young actor Paata Inauri, who can be said to be one of the interesting figures. His character is purely cinematic, he is clearly "in communication" with the camera, which is still very rare in Georgian reality. It means the circumstance that the actor should also say what the character is saying with facial expressions and should not need a theatrical shout to express emotion.
The film, despite everything, managed to win the hearts of film professionals. In 2022, at the Mestia International Film Festival of Short and Mountain Films, it received an award in the nomination of the best short film for his modern interpretation of minimalism and Georgian cinema. Foreign viewers liked exactly this postmodernist solution in this film.

Saba Makharashvili,
film critic

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