Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Fairytale and Power of Cinema

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky (2021) - Koberidze What do we see It seems Georgian cinema is having a renaissance of sorts past few years; there was Beginning, a stunning debut film, indicting religious patriarchy, by Dea Kulumvegashibli and Comets, a complex lesbian love story, by Tamar Shavgulidze just last year, now we are blessed with What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?, a modern day fairytale that is patiently observant and whimsical as well as politically astute and cinematically daring, by a relative newcomer Alexandre Koberidze (Let the Summer Never Come Again).

With other former Soviet block countries which became Independent States - Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia have been experiencing a rocky relationship with Putin's Russia, which flexes its political muscle with military might in the region with number of incursions and invasions over the years. For Georgia, not only dealing with Russia but also two pro-Russian separatist states within its borders, Abkhazia in the west and South Ossetia, north of Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. The not so distant civil wars and incursions are not far from the collective psyche of its citizens and make them look over the shoulder with any sort of disturbances. Enter the magic of cinema to offer a momentary reprieve. For the next 150 minutes, you are introduced to a peaceful, unhurried life in the ancient Georgian city of Kutaisi.

In What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? we are introduced to two attractive young people, Lisa (Oliko Barbakadze), a pharmacist and Giogi (Giogi Ambroladze), a soccer player, as they bump into each other twice, and falling in love at first sight. Without exchanging numbers, they promise each other to meet the next day in the park. But alas, the ancient spirits have different ideas. And they put a curse on the couple. As they go to sleep at night, Koberidze warns the audiences to close their eyes momentarily, because when they wake up, they will be completely different people.

Now Lisa and Giogi are played by Ani Karseladze and Giogi Bochorislivili. They lose the power of their profession (part of the curse) and have to take menial jobs at a same cafe near the Rivoli river without knowing that they are cursed lovers. 

For next two leisurely hours, we are introduced to the daily rhythm of the idyllic small town in the summer where we get to focus on every person, element and even each stray dog, told by an omniscient narrator. It's the World Cup season and everyone is glued to the big TV screen, and as the ritual goes, there are two spots where townspeople and dogs choose to go to watch. We unhurriedly move from kids playing soccer in slow motion, to a vibraphone practice at the music school across town, to outdoor parties where young people hang out, to the bridge over Rivoli river where Giogi has set up a pull bar, as a silly marketing gimmick by an old man who owns the cafe. The film is full of charm, wonder and the pleasure of watching everyday miracles. Faraz Fesharaki's sun kissed cinematography and immersive sound design accentuate the peace and tranquility. 

But let's not lose the sight of our cursed lovers to be - Lisa and Giogi. There is an old documentary filmmaker team going around town selecting couples to be filmed. Lisa and Giogi catch their eyes and even though they are not a couple (yet!), both are too polite to say no. So they decide to pose for the documentarians. And the power of cinema does its magic.

The film is about training our gaze on ordinary things. There are so much violence and hate in the world, why don't we focus on the beauty and wonder of our daily lives, the omniscient narrator seems to suggest. Gentle, joyous, and beguiling, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? floats like a calm river over you and makes you forget about the ugliness of the outside world for a short while and embrace the power of cinema in revealing the beauty of everyday life.

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? has a preview screening as a part of What We See: New Georgian Cinema at Museum of Moving Image on November 6 and in theaters November 12 at Film at Lincoln Center and Metrograph in NYC. National expansion to follow. A Mubi release.