“Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit and intelligence of citizens,“ – these words belong to the 19th century politician, Joseph Story, who defined the entire idea of the republic, which is also applicable to the 21st century commune created on the Batumi landfill.
"Respublika" (2021) is a documentary film by Khvicha and Tinatin Emiridze, which shows Dato’s life, of a person who illegally settled in Batumi landfill. He is not alone. Around him, in fact, one big settlement is being built. Redistribution of land, construction of houses and farms is underway. The main character is at the center of all this because he wants to create a "respublika" from the aforementioned commune, which will have its own autonomous government.
The directors show Dato’s character in an experienced way, which makes his type easy to understand. The sound of Indian music can be heard from the half-built house, where Dato goes about his daily routine naked above his waste. With this, he is known as a lover of Eastern philosophy, free and integrated with nature. All this is absolutely naturally embedded in a person, without any literacy and knowledge.
Dato has two children, a boy and a girl, who visit him at home. For the most part, the reason for their visit is money, and it is quite little. But the father can only do this. In his communication with children, his absolute openness and friendly attitude towards them can be seen. From the very first scenes, the determination of this character can be seen when he tells his son about the construction plans - where and what he wants to build.
Other residents distance themselves from Dato because he is different from others. Only a few of them are in contact with him. He doesn't just think about settling in this place, he has much bigger ideas for it. Dato wants this dump to become an oasis, a place where people can live happily together with their domestic animals but he faces real problems forcing him to leave his colorful dreams and fight in a gray world.
His difference and a kind of alienation from society can be seen when he visits his daughter in the city. The cameraman amazingly captures the awkwardness and tightness that Dato has when he is in the city. He seems a detached figure from the urban routine, who cannot fit into that context in any way.
Dato's goal is only an idea, and around the idea he has several associates. A small glimpse of the fulfillment of this goal is seen when the main character throws a party at the end of the film. He was able to set up a tent with scarce funds, just the kind that children build with pillows, and someone, an adult or younger, who enters it, forgets the outside world, something like that. At the end of the film, Dato is seen again on another day collecting garbage, who believes in himself, his children and his neighbors.
Recently, an interesting narrative style has emerged in Georgian documentary film. While telling the story, the director tells us about a given social or political problem, with a seemingly simple, yet diverse character who has a dualistic life. An example can be Rati Oneli's "City of the Sun" (2016). Even in "Respublika," the Emiridze brother and sister made Dato an example around whom there is complete social injustice. He and other people who are around him are citizens living in a dystopian world that the government does not acknowledge. They were able to show very clearly the world that is real. In the Western world such people are called "underground people," although in Georgia they live above ground and we have daily contact with them.
It is obvious that the fundamental idea is not visible in the film. It seems to be more of a report about a person who lives in the Batumi landfill. There are many mistakes in this regard. The narrative does not follow any one idea, leaving the audience to decipher what the directors wanted to say. It is a bit confusing which topic is raised in the film, Dato and his life problems, Batumi landfill problem, homeless people, relationship between people or something else. All this is very evenly distributed in the film, so it makes the film under one ideological umbrella, but it is this ratio that makes this film, in some cases boring to watch. At one point, if we were interested in Dato's relationship with his children, the shot suddenly shifts to the landfill and the ongoing construction there. It's as if the directors are telling us, "Come on, let's see this too, come on, here's this too" and this is how the audience gets dizzy over and over again.
Cinematographically, the film is nothing new. Due to the intensity of the topic, the audience may not notice the kind of negatives that clearly follow the film. First of all, its pace should be noted. Completely useless shots, such as panoramas of the environment and completely uninteresting landscapes of a landfill, are very common in this film. With all this, in fact, the already 70-minute film has been stretched. The fact is that this work has become very stretched and dull with such artificial magnification. However, there was an opportunity to focus more on getting to know the characters around Dato or even to highlight his relationship with his children.
The film's cinematographer, Nik Voigt, can be said to have had a lot of "fun" exploring this exotic location for him, as it is clear that he uses the film camera only to describe and record, not to portray any depth. He is a photographer by profession and I dare say that in this film he could not overcome his photographic vision. Most of his shots are meant for the photo principle only in a static state, during which he does his job perfectly, however, as soon as the camera starts moving, he transforms from a professional to a novice cameraman, unable to open the character in the film, unable to show the audience their inner world. Very soon he is deceived by them, and this is noticeable to the trained eye. The cameraman did not manage to become invisible, in each shot you can see his weight in the environment and how noticeable it was during the shooting process. That's why we ended up with a documentary on an amazing subject that differs very little from a well-made TV story.
Despite everything, this film still remains a must-see film. It shows a very different Georgia with different people. Its authors try to show not only the social existence of a modern Georgian, but also how the love of life can turn a person into a dreamer and do everything to make the world better, even if this world is a landfill.