"They co-exist and they don't co-exist" - this is how Nika explains Dachi what negative numbers are. Nika and Dachi are inmates of a juvenile detention institution just like their peers there - rejected by society and sometimes, even by their families. "Negative Numbers" (2019) is a film by Uta Beria, which is shown to children in different regions of Georgia as part of the "Cinema at School" project and then discussed. It's a good project and a good choice of film. The topics, which take an artistic form in this film, constantly excite any society: people stuck in prison, especially the under-aged; dishonest representatives of justice; the effects of the criminal world on children and adolescents and on society in general; oppression of a person by another one, superior to him, or by a system.
The main character of the film, Nika (Sandro Kalandadze), is said to be serving his sentence in the juvenile prison instead of his older brother. The brother often calls Nika and gives advice - how to act to become a criminal authority, the youngest "thief in law" and start a future "career." These tips are cruel and merciless to other people in Nika's situation. Sometimes Nika doesn't like it either but his brother constantly convinces him of the necessity of such behavior and demands that "the whole prison should stand up at Nika’s one demand." The most unfortunate thing is that such a situation is completely in favor of the prison administration. That is why it turns a blind eye to the so-called “prisoners’ kitty.”
The rule and influence of the criminal underworld outside penitentiaries and jails was strong in the countries of the Soviet Union and it was often connected with government officials. Despite the subject, this film is not about the influence of the Soviet criminal world today (unfortunately, it has not completely lost its power). This film is about elders’ influence on teenagers. These influences begin in families and continue through kindergarten and school and are especially strong when children are in a confined space. The influence can be both good and bad. Unfortunately, the bad influence is stronger and more visible.
Why do adolescents like Nika, Dachi, Maté end up in prison? Or more often, why don't they change after serving their sentence?
In the film, it is clearly shown that the reason for this is the environment: the convoy and the prison camp management, who prefer prisoners to be without self-harm, so that someone from the inside, in agreement with them, rules them with a "strict hand;" the criminal world, which tries to train future staff from the outside; a society in which socialization is difficult for the adults who come out of it. One of the released prisoners returns very quickly and is much more motivated to make his place in the criminal world.
Writer and film dramatist Erlom Akhvlediani wrote: "A child's psyche is unstable. It is a clean slate and he as well as others will read what is written on it. Everything is written there, good and bad... Like a sponge, the child absorbs not what we say but what we do and diligently hide. He has an innate ability to read what is written between the lines" (Akhvlediani, Erlom. Old and New. Tbilisi, "Sezani," 2003, p. 175).
It is understandable what the characters of the film "learned" in the family, school, street or elsewhere before and after coming to prison but there is also a positive example in the rugby coaches who have their real prototypes. With patience, equal kindness and respect for everyone and hard work, they showed another example, another way, which does not involve each other's oppression and selfishness, but cooperation, teamwork and equality. These are completely different rules, contrary to those in prison. The unfortunate thing is that the prison employees also act according to the same rules and thus advance on the career ladder. When the rules of rugby began to apply off the field, the real conflict began. The young men saw that it is possible to live in a different way and found an example of this in literature in Vazha-Pshavela's poem, "Aluda Ketelauri." Some understood what Aluda did, some did not and some thought about it just like the film's already brooding and contemplating protagonist.
Film director Uta Beria is a professional screenwriter too. He knows very well the structure of the script, the ways of creating the image of the main character. This latter is the central figure through whom and around whom the story unfolds and his character can be developed in various ways in relation to this story. In "Negative Numbers" the main character changes and so does the environment. Nika is undergoing a transformation and there is change around him and this is thanks to him. So what if such a change can take a while.
Nika's change is caused by revaluation - revaluation of events, people, situations. He must draw the line between good and bad, enemy and friend, primary and secondary, his own true and self-conceived desires. It is a painful process because everything is turned upside down in this search. Nika doesn't want to be the oppressor anymore.
In the work "A Theory of Human Motivation," the famous American psychologist Abraham Maslow establishes a hierarchy of needs. According to this theory, a person has seven basic needs: 1. Physiological; 2. Safety; 3. Belonging and Love ; 4. Esteem; 5. Cognitive; 6. Aesthetic; 7. Self-actualization.
Which needs are satisfied for adolescents behind bars? 1. Physiological? Not until the end (the film hints at unsatisfied sexual desire). 2. Safety? Not really. We see physical violence, psychological violence, we witness cases of suicide. 3. Need for belonging? Of course, it is intensified because there is more security in the group, although the groups are also hierarchically separated (we see how the newcomer, Maté is shown a place in the canteen). 4. The need for esteem is there, but esteem is hard to come by and safety becomes more important in this space. 5. Regarding the cognitive need, it can be said that in this case it is at least minimally possible to satisfy it because young people learn and learn. The passage about "Aluda Ketelauri" by Vazha-Pshavela is proof of this. Children find connections between literature and their own lives. 6. It is difficult to satisfy aesthetic needs in the given environment, however, I remember Uta Beria himself, who during the preparation of the script went to the juvenile colony to better familiarize himself with the material and noted how the prisoners paid a lot of attention to clothes. Not only does beautiful and branded outfit increase the authority and self-esteem of the individual in the eyes of the society, but it is actually the only way to satisfy the aesthetic needs (in the film, clothing appropriate to the environment is used). 7. And as for the need for self-actualization, it is probably the most difficult to satisfy. Only some are able to do this in prison, and just sometimes. For some boys rugby becomes a way to satisfy the need for self-actualization. We don't know what crime they committed, but we see that their existence in prison is only a punishment that does not allow for correction, development, and adaptation to society after leaving. In this closed environment, only compassion, love and personal example can bring about change.
The film "Negative Numbers" is an attempt to do this. Its authors tell us the story with maximum correctness, sincerity, knowledge of the material. It is as if Tato Kotetishvili's camera is one of the prisoners and a direct participant in the events. The tonality of the image, portraits, environment, decoration express the message with moderate accuracy. It is neither too naturalistic nor too artistic (production designer - Irakli Avaliani), just like the whole film, which tells us about real people and problems.