Since Otar Left (Depuis qu’Otar est parti… )

Since Otar Left is a gentle, insightful family drama placed in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, the country where Stalin was born. Despite the dissolution of the USSR and the discrediting of Stalin, he remains a hero to Eka (Esther Gorintin), the willful matriarch of a bourgeois family of now faded prospects. She lives with her daughter, Marina (Nino Khomassouridze), a widow whose husband was killed in the Soviet war against Afghanistan, and Ada, her beloved granddaughter who adores her grandmother, but is stifled by the lack of opportunity in Tbilisi.

Eka’s son, Otar, a physician, has moved to Paris in search of a better life and Eka lives in constant anticipation of his occasional letters. When Marina learns that her brother has been killed in an accident, she decides not to tell her mother for fear it would kill her. Ada disapproves of the lie, but Marina tells her, "Our whole generation lived a lie." Thus does a political context permeate the day-to-day lives of ordinary people.

Director Julie Bertuccelli, in her debut feature film, displays an assured touch, developing all three of these principal characters and their interrelationships in satisfying depth. She touches on conditions in Tbilisi (intermittent water and power supplies, a sluggish bureaucracy, indifferent public health services) as well, but keeps her story character-driven. Eka alternately harangues and ignores Marina who is caught between her mother and her daughter who have a special connection. Ada reads Proust to her grandmother, a Francophile, and massages her feet.

Marina holds her paramour, Tenguiz, at arm’s length. When Ada asks why Marina doesn’t invite Tenguiz for dinner, she replies, "He’s more fun in bed; he’s a bore at dinner." In an honest, but light, moment, Marina says to him, "I wish I were in love with you!" And Ada, reflecting her mother’s independence, holds her boyfriend at arm’s length, too. This is a family of independent women, making their own way in the world. (None of the male characters is developed in any depth.)

But the lie that is central to the plot, and reflects upon the way people cope, leads to a wonderfully ironic twist at story’s end. It’s an outcome that reveals and deepens understanding of Eka, in particular. Esther Gorintin, at 90, is no less than remarkable in her portrayal of the old lady with her feistiness and her vulnerability, her stubbornness and, ultimately, her thoughtful wisdom.

Paced slowly and deliberately, Since Otar Left nonetheless provides sufficient narrative drive to sustain interest in the outcome–an outcome which not only resolves the story, but also highlights changes in relationships amongst the three women and the arc of their lives.

Arthur Lazere

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San Francisco, CA
Mr. Lazere founded culturevulture.net in 1998 and worked tirelessly to promote its potential as a means for communicating a distinctly personal yet wide-ranging selection of arts reviews. Under his leadership, the site grew in esteem as well as in “circulation", and is well-regarded nationally and internationally as a source for up-to-date, well-written criticism. Arthur passed away on September 30, 2006.