Soso Bliadze's film "Otar’s Death" (2021) is a bizarre work. When the film is over, you are left unsure of your feelings. What does it say, exactly? The idea is now out of fashion, but in today's terms - what message does it convey? Which is the positive hero? Negative? Who is the audience supposed to empathize with?
The story is about how a 16-year-old boy hit an old man on a dark village street and killed him, but as it turned out, he simply "switched him off," and the following day the man resumes his hunting activities. It is powerful and offers many opportunities for the expression of passions and feelings. And the passions spread out simultaneously — in the city and in the countryside.
In the village, the old man's grandson, Oto, bitterly beats the criminal, Nika. I believe that only he is affected by the passing of his grandfather. In contrast to him, his mother, Tamara, a music teacher, appears not give a damn about the village, approaches the issue more practically. She sees her father's death as an unexpected and last chance to move to Tbilisi and asks for money in exchange for silence and not to initiate the case.
In the city, Nick's mother, Katie, starts looking for a huge amount of money for him, and the deadline is only one day. She does not have a stable income even though she tells the bank the opposite when applying for a loan. Not only the bank, but also her parents, give her a cold refusal. Only her ex-husband, Nika's father, manages to obtain this money, through internal struggle and, apparently, great sacrifice.
The characters in the movie are drawn in a physical, textured way, which is one of its great strengths. It is also essential to note that all characters, not just the main ones, are carefully selected and thought out, even the episodic ones that only appear in a single shot. Each one is "gifted" with their own way of dressing or moving, speaking style, and memorable personality.
However, it can be said that all the creative effort went into depicting Katie's image. Nutsa Kukhianidze energetically and organically cuts through her features: a young, beautiful, moderately "selfish" woman with a disordered life. She is "modern" and a “friendly mother”, but this friendliness is expressed in superficial affection and brotherly relationships. However, only from the mother's side - the boy is more closed, and his look full of reproach often tells us that he is not at all happy with such a "warm" attitude, because in the mother-son relationship it is often Nika who has to take care of himself and of his mother too. There is no mutual understanding, although this does not mean a lack of love. At a critical moment, Katie is ready to do everything to save her son, but there is still no understanding.
Tamara’s image, Eka Chavleishvili's character, in contrast to Katie, who moves with nervous breakdowns on the screen, is presented with heavy lines: unlike Katie, who flutters like a butterfly, she stands firmly on the ground; she is also dynamic in her actions, and she does not lack pragmatism, although deep down, it seems that she too has "butterflies in her stomach" - in the hut, where winter supplies are stored, she lives with the cello in secret from others. It's a different world than music lessons at a country school. The relationship with her son is also the opposite: traditional and authoritarian, and the similarity here is also in the lack of mutual understanding.
What do these two incredibly dissimilar women, express - the confrontation between the village and the city? Or their unity in the "wearing off" of attitudes, in selfishness?
Nika and Oto form a similar opposition-unity duet. Only they experience what happened as a calamity; they are equally alienated from the practical goals and "necessary" actions of adults; and they both seek solace or escape from their emotions in a woman. Oto seems to even find her in routine sex with a neighbor, an older woman, while Nika encounters the sharply defined world of a modern, independent girl who does not want to understand the young man so unconditionally, accept his unexpected aggression.
Actress Taki Mumladze creates Anna's image with lively, convincing strokes and makes us remember her, although despite the fact that she spends a lot of time in the film, she does not become an important figure dramaturgically; she only emphasizes Nika's alienation from the world. And again, in contrast to Irma (Rusudan Kobiashvili), who, on the contrary, is a "conciliatory" thread with Oto's world. A woman who will receive you at the right time, will explain without asking too many questions, and will remind you of the reason for coming ("Don’t leave these walnuts here" is fantastic) - is an ideal model of relationship for a patriarchal society.
The costumed evening at the club, for which the young people prepare throughout the film, could not become the center of the story. The topic of preparation appears so often in the course of the film that the evening takes on a special significance in the viewer's imagination. By all accounts, it should have been the climax of the film, but instead we only get a well-drawn, atmospheric episode that once again emphasizes Nika's alienation from the world and his despair.
The final is open. Naked Nika enters the lake and swims out of the frame. Whether this is suicide or just a desire to swim in the lake, which at the beginning of the film could not be fulfilled due to a conflict with his mother, is up to the viewers to decide.
Making a decision is complicated by Otar, who, passes by next to his clothes on the shore with a gun in his hand and a dog by his side, like we encountered him in the film's prologue.
In general, the sharply ironic episode of Otar's "Resurrection from the Dead" sets the tone and makes the subtextual irony of the other episodes more obvious, but it is not enough to move the audience on the wave of irony. At the same time, drama cannot stand at such a height that the feelings of the characters cause reciprocal emotions. In this regard, Nika's line is especially guilty. And we are invited to share his feelings, but the ways in which they are conveyed are not enough to evoke sympathy. In the end, drama and irony did not blend harmoniously and remained as alternative options for the viewers to choose from. In contrast, the author's distanced, absurdist attitude towards these characters and the same environment is obvious.
And here is the second great merit of the film: despite the absurdity of the environment, this environment is extremely familiar and close. Soso Bliadze is distinguished by his special love of reality in the Georgian cinema space. For him, a plot is never a story that unfolds in one environment or another; but can perfectly unfold elsewhere, in a different background. In this film as well, the environment, painted with rich textural details and lively, familiar, but non-trivial touches (we cannot fail to mention Dito Dekanosidze's excellent cinematography here), appears to be the main force of impact along with the characters and overtakes dramaturgy.
"Otar’s Death" does not belong to the category of social cinema, but thanks to the expressive features of the characters and the reality that seems to be conveyed to the audience through minute details, it depicts the world and the shared sorrow of its inhabitants much better than the so-called "Social drama”.
Many questions remain after the film, but remains also the film itself with very typical, but at the same time strongly individual characters; with nuances, details that speak for themselves about problems, the nature of relationships, or their changes; with phrases that sometimes tell us more than the words that make them up. After a while, you come to the realization that you like the film regardless of its flaws, and it doesn't matter anymore whether it's an inexperienced drama or a black comedy that hasn't been totally completed.