"Hello, ma'am, do you have any vacancies?" - a voice is heard from behind the shot, still in the background of the black screen and credits - this is how the director Keko Chelidze begins to introduce the main character of her film, “Dead Souls' Vacation” (2020) to the audience. Somewhere in the fourth minute, the music starts, and the hero himself is clearly visible - a small, thin man standing at the crossroads, holding a big guitar, to which the sounding melody belongs. He introduces himself like this: "I'm Levan, Svanidze, a musician, 44 years old, I live with my mother, which should not be surprising, somewhere at the end of the Didi Dighomi district, and I'm trying…well, to make something happen..."
The 1990s is one of the most frequently repeated themes in modern Georgian cinema, and this is not accidental. It was a very difficult, painful and special time - years of many changes, revaluing many things and devaluing even more. Military conflicts, civil strife, the activation of the criminal world, armed people on the streets and in the background of all this a destroyed economy, universal poverty, darkness and hopelessness. The echo of these events is still felt in the Georgian reality and it is natural that the reflection on this topic does not stop.
But despite all these circumstances, in the 1990s, the subculture of Georgian underground music was also being formed, when one after the other, rock or punk groups, various art unions and clubs were formed, concerts and festivals were held, where they sang about the surrounding darkness, hopelessness and, at the same time, on the need to change the world.
Levan, the main character of Keko Chelidze's film, is a kind of echo of this period, who himself resembles the mentioned era, which has passed almost without a trace. From that period, only a few songs and old former heroes are left, who are rarely remembered in programs devoted to the 1990s.
The idea of creating a film is related to the 1990s and the heroes of that period. In his time, as a bass guitarist, Levan cooperated with almost all popular musicians and groups of that time, and then a long period of oblivion and disappearance began. It was at this time that Keko Chelidze met him, she met him simply as a friend of the film producer and cameraman Kote Kalandadze, and then, completely by chance, she discovered Levan's music.
The idea of making the film also came lightly, from conversations and reminiscing about old times, more precisely from Levan's desire to reunite the group and reminisce about the old, "good times". As the director of the film herself says, they decided to go with this desire of Levan.
But time passed, Levan used to make plans, meet some people, but in the end things did not move forward, as the director recalls, if they used to go out for filming, Levan's mother would call him and he was forced to go back for various reasons. Time passed in this uncertainty, and when they were about to give up on the idea, they realized that if they were going to make a documentary and wanted to reflect reality, Levan's reality was living with his mother locked in a small room.
Keko Chelidze's film can be attributed to the genre of observation, when the camera, as an external, invisible and impartial observer, records the details of the hero's daily life and in this way introduces him to the audience, introduces him to his emotional world in such a way as to ultimately cause sympathy for him.
Old things, boxes, family pictures, photographs from Levan's mother, Lamara’s youth, gathered in a small space create a background that already in its own way allows the main characters to get to know each other, telling them about the once large family and monotonous everyday life in a room crowded with echoes of the past.
It's amazing how the filmmakers managed to achieve the level of immediacy and sincerity when neither Levan nor his mother play in front of the camera for even a second. Here they dispute which relative established some characteristic word in their lexicon; Lamara tries to present her family as more profitable and recalls that her father was a member of the Adjara Writers' Union and even wrote a poem about Stalin, and periodically threatens that, as soon as she is better, she will go to the Ministry of Culture and raise Levan’s issue with whomever is necessary, etc. Ordinary, everyday non-informative dialogues, without pre-defined topics and chapter endorsements
For almost the entire film, the film camera remains an external observer and rarely approaches the hero, only when he leaves his room in desperate search for a job and a future - he takes his record to the recording studio, but in the middle of the conversation, his mother calls him and asks him to come home, he is trying to build a relationship with the girl, as if he has planned something like a date, but again his mother calls him and angrily says: "Now you need the girl, when I feel so bad!" And, of course, all the plans fall apart. Mother-son relationship is a separate topic. Both of them seem to be victims of circumstances. Levan tries to take care of his mother, cooks, dyes her hair and, periodically, tries to escape from this unpleasant, monotonous existence.
The street shots are taken from a distance, which allows to see and perceive the environment well, the environment where the main character of the film has to exist. Levan talks to a homeless man and tells the story of his unemployment, then he buys cheap vodka on the street and drinks it there. It should be noted that in almost all circumstances, the hero of the film maintains a seemingly forgotten sense of nobility and dignity. In the process of looking for a job, even when he really needs it, Levan doesn't agree to everything, he doesn't play where he can't be heard and his music isn't interested. He never loses his sense of humor and self-irony and, most importantly, his hope that one day he will be able to break through this unsuccessful cycle. He rarely expresses his fears and worries, only in conversations with the woman next door.
The hero's feeling of inner loneliness and helplessness is also assisted by the moments of certain trance in the film, when the barren, empty landscape of the suburbs can be seen from the windows of Levan's apartment and the mother-son song or Levan's music is heard.
The authors of the film manage to make the audience fall in love with Levan, a kind of romantic hero behind his time, who lives with non-existent hopes and ideas, while the time of rebellious musicians in Georgia has long passed. Somewhere in the middle of the film, the audience realizes that hanging on to his mother and constantly taking care of her is for Levan a kind of escape from reality, a refuge and self-justification, first of all, again with himself. This is clearly seen in the episode when, after fruitless searches, Levan is really contacted by the members of his old group, "The Letter", and it seems that a concert is planned. He is also waiting for this evening, he is rehearsing, getting ready, the audience also has the feeling that something might change, but ... Levan is not going to the concert!
But when Lamara suffers a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital, their small, stuffy flat suddenly becomes eerily empty for Levan, and that's when he feels most alone. At the end of the film, Levan is on the road again, walking and repeating to himself like a prayer: "I can't live without her, I kiss her all the time, if she didn’t exist, I wouldn't exist either, may her be a little while, at least a little while longer..."
About two years after the film was made, Levan died at the age of 47. He passed away just like the era he resembled - quietly, unorganized, unappreciated and unseen. He left, or maybe he just got tired and gave up. It is all the more painful to see an old recording at the end of the film, already in the background of the final credits, where a still very young Levan gives an interview with a smile, full of hope and faith in his own music and future.
For several years now, an interesting trend has emerged in Georgian cinema - documentary film is becoming more and more active, which creates convincing portraits of people living next to us and reflects reality and problems in society in a much more interesting and in-depth way than feature cinema can. Keko Chelidze's “Dead Souls' Vacation” is a clear proof of this.

Tamta Turmanidze,
PHD in Art Criticism (Film Studies),
Assistant professor

Leave a Comment

თქვენი ელფოსტის მისამართი გამოქვეყნებული არ იყო. აუცილებელი ველები მონიშნულია *