Tengiz Abuladze


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7.3 The Plea (1967)
6.5 A Necklace for My Beloved (1971)
7.0 The Wishing Tree (1976)
7.2 Repentance (1984)
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Tengiz Abuladze (Georgia, 1924) led the post-war film renaissance in Soviet Union's Georgia.

Magdanas Lurja/ Lurja Magdany/ Magdana's Donkey (1956), co-directed with Rezo Chkheidze, and Skhvisi Shvilebi/ Chuzhie Dzetsi/ Other People's Children (1958) focus on regional folklore using a neorealistic approach.

Me, Bebia, Iliko da Ilarioni/ Ia, Babushka, Iliko i Ilarion/ Me, Grandma, Iliko and Ilarioni (1962) is a lively portrait of the Caucasus at the beginning of the 20th century. The film captures patriotic spirit and religious nostalgia. The film follows the path of Italian neorealism that morphed from urban dramas into populist comedies, but maintaining a lyrical register which is specific to Georgia's regional tradition.

Vedreba/ Molba/ The Plea (1967), adapted from two poems by Vaza Psavela and the first installment of Abuladze's trilogy (which ends with Repentance), is his most poetic, romantic, philosophical, and experimental film. The film, which narrates the feud between opposing religious tribes in the Caucasus Mountains, is filled with symbolism: the woman in white, whom men both fear and desire, perhaps represents human folly and ambition. The film has Shakespearean overtones.

Somebody is praying to his god. The camera shows a man sitting in a Buddha-like position against a wall of rock. As the man keeps praying god to imbue him with goodness, the camera moves up the gigantic wall until it reaches for the sky. There's a girl in white walking through the tall grass. An old warrior too. They all pray. The warrior gets on his knees in front of the girl, as she warms up her hands by the fire. A fat, ugly, semi-naked joker hides in the shade. The warrior curses him but the joker is not afraid. The joker scorns life, the warrior ponders the vanity of human ambition. The joker lusts for the pure girl. The girl speaks and leaves. The warrior asks a wise old man for the meaning of life.
The action shifts to a medieval village in the mountains, its wall full of severed hands. Aluda is the local hero, revered by the old men of this Christian tribe. He rides the valleys and kills the enemies of the village. An ancient tradition wants him to cut the hands of his victims. But this time he can't severe the hand of a Muslim who fights bravely after Aluda has killed his brother. Aluda returns to the village without the hands of the brothers and even sacrifices a bull for the courageous enemy. The camera indulges on the pagan-christian ceremony. The old men of the village show contempt for his action and his attitude and send him into exile with his family.
Back to the first scene: bones fall from the sky in front of the old warrior. The warrior sees the procession of the dead, all dressed up as they were before they were buried. Then he witnesses the funeral of a powerful man: even he succumbed to death. The pensive warrior realizes the power of death. He tells how his house was burned down and the neighbors simply watched without helping. Only a woman in white tried to help, but she burned with the house, unseen by anybody. Only ashes and a phantom were left.
Back in the mountains, two hunters meet: one is Johola, a member of the Muslim tribe, and the other one is a member of the Christian tribe. The noble and generous Johola offers the Christian hospitality for the night. They reach the tall towers of the Muslism village. But the old men of the village want revenge for the killing of the two brothers. Johola wants to defend his guest, but eventually the old men prevail (we hear them speaking but we don't see their lips moving). They drag the Christian to a nearby hill where his throat is slit. A woman cries, ashamed of her own people. The procession returns to the village in a somber mood, and the woman comes back to cry on the dead man's body (but his sent away by the ghosts of the murdered brothers).
The joker and the girl in white are getting married in a pompous ceremony. The warrior is in the forest, caught in a storm of petals while children run through the trees. A crowd of cripples and blind men walks in a street and is attacked by police. Men, spread all over the mountain, are digging graves in the snow. In a Dali-like scene, they erect the gallows and hang the girl in white.
Back to the very first scene: the man sitting like a Buddha prays by the giant wall of rock.

Samkauli Satrposatvis/ Ozerele Dlja Mobj Ljubimos/ A Necklace for My Beloved (1971), not part of the trilogy, is a farcical comedy halfway between picaresque saga and ethnographic tour of Georgia's countryside, a sequence of farcical vaudeville skits, with a surprise ending of cinematographic meta-fiction.

In the first scene a young man, Bahadur, claims to be 13 years old because he starts counting from the day he became a professional. He is asked why he signed his work "A Necklace for My Beloved" as Putnik. We now see that he is being interrogated in the street by a cop who wants to find the criminal depicted in his novel. Bahadur explains that the criminal doesn't exist. The cop says that they have spent one month looking for these fictitious criminal. The cop admonishes Bahadur to never fabricate a story again. A wordless flashback shows a young woman dying in the street, her body surrounded by a crowd, and a toddler emerging from the crowd and running away on the dusty road towards a city. Bahadur introduces himself. He introduces the elders who (men only) gather on the main square to watch people go by. We see them arguing about what came first: the tree or the fruit? The wise Hasbulat settles the dispute by eating a fruit. He introduces his uncle Duldurum, who raised him and trained him to become a silversmith. Duldurum sneaks into Aisha's house (Aisha is dressed all in black, like all the women) and complains that he's been waiting for 15 years for her approval to marry Bahadur to her daughter Serminaz but Aisha refuses because of an ancient feud between their families. When Bahadur opens the door, she chases him into the street brandishing a broom and he has to climb a lamppost. At night Aisha's parents are literally mounting guard in front of her bedroom (armed with a sword and a rifle). The uncle tells Bahadur to throw a hat into the window of her bedroom. The hat floats in the air like a spaceship. The parents rush outside to shoot the boy who had to flee for his life. Bahadur then sets out on a trip, as does another suitor, Aziz, to find the gift that would win him the girl. Bahadur is immediately scammed of all his money by a con man, then hitchhikes to a kingdom despite warnings about the "brides of the king", he gets attacked by a gang of cheerful girls who steals his clothes, and meets a desperate knight who needs to find eight more 40-year-old Mohammads. Finally, he runs into a man who calls himself a murderer, Suguri, a traveling showman who lost his beloved Chata, his show's acrobat, when he pretended to hang himself out of desperation and caused her husband to die of a heart attack. (A flashback indulges in tightrope acts). Suguri is on his way to the library to study the "Don Quijote" because he thinks it will help him better understand women. The con man, who calls himself "the builder Daud", robs Bahadur of all his money. Daud is then captured by a man who accuses him of having defrauded him when he built a wall that collapsed. Daud tricks the man into releasing him to run back to his wife (whom we see dancing the twist with another man in the bedroom with the collapsed wall). The penniless Bahadur has witnessed the whole thing but lets Daud escape again. Bahadur is captured by a girl, Saltanat, who wants him to marry her. It turns out the girl is a serial bride, who, despite the young age, has been married three times before. Bahadur escapes, chased by the girl's relatives who want to kill him and the aspiring bride herself, already wearing a white dress, mans a machine gun. Bahadur runs again into Suguri who is happy because he got Chata back. Bahadur then poses as a model for a painter in a field of poppies, but then recognizes the painter as Daud the con man. Daud flees when cops show up. Bahadur runs into the knight searching for Mohammads: he has aged dramatically and is desperate because he still needs to find one Mohammad. Finally Bahadur returns home with a gift for his love Serminaz. Aziz and another suitor present their gifts. Saltanat shows up and is given one of the three. Aziz delivers a magic stone that makes any wish come true. Bahadur says his gift is a necklace: the necklace is actually the script for te film that we have just watched. The elders read it and laugh. The wise elder of the town explains what the feud between the two families has been for a century: it was a philosophical question about what holds up the universe. Bahadur's uncle and Serminaz's father laugh and make peace. Behadur is the winner. In the last scene a baby is born: he comes out of the crowd and runs towards the town, just like in the scene where Bahadur was born.

The second installment of the trilogy, Natris Khe/ Drevo Zhelanii/ The Wishing Tree (1976), which adapts short stories by Giorgi Leonidze of rural village life (collected in a 1962 book of the same title), incidentally set in Kakhetian (the birthplace of Georgia's painter Pirosmani), is the Georgian version of Fellini's Amarcord: a parade of eccentric characters set in a rural village, and a mosaic of some 20 comic episodes. The difference is that Abuladze pours in generous doses of local legends and superstitions. And the biggest difference is that the fresco contains a tragic love story, where the conflict between tradition and progress culminates and is settled. The film slowly transitions from quasi-documentarian Caucasian folklore to aesthetic attractions and finally to Shakespear-ian tragedy. There are many allegorical scenes. For example, only children listen to the sermons of the anarchist (predicting the revolution) and of the philosopher (bemoaning the decline of the nation); and only the madmen dream of a revolution and try to defend the victim of tradition. The priest doesn't seem to matter: pagan superstition constantly prevails over Christian dogma. He is at best a spectator of the fight between tradition and progress. (Compared with the book, several characters are missing, like Rajden, Kadori and Garsevani, and some of the details are different).

The story is set at the time of the czars.
A child sees a horse struggling in a field of poppies and runs to tell Gedya, a young man, that his horse is dying. Their uncle, Tsitsikore, kills the animal that is suffering. Gedya cries. The uncle thinks that the grass is poisoned by the blood of all the enemy soldiers who died in battle and still crave revenge.
Tsitsikore, who is the chief elder of the village, decides to fence off the area.
Ioram, feared as an anarchist who makes bombs at night, mocks and decries his superstition, and even eats the grass himself. He calms down only when he meets a pretty woman, Nargiza.
Tsitsikore believes in one superstition but not in another one: when a woman, Marusi, begs him to touch her mentally retarded son, he refuses, blaming his condition on the poisoned grass.
Another old man, Bumbula, bemoans the decline of the country with a rousing speech that noone listens to.
A man emerges from a fog, pulling a horse on which a beautiful young woman rides: it's Marita, who is coming back to her granma and her father.
They pass in front of Gedya who is playing with the boy of the first scene: he is smitten by Marita's beauty.
The mad Bumbula worships a holy stone in the house of the priest, but the priest kicks him out. The anarchist Ioram leads children to shout anti-czar and anti-church slogans to the priest, but the priest calms him down simply by showing him Nargiza, the pretty woman. The priest too lusts after her.
Three young men drafted into the army drink with uncle Ipro and leave the village. Marita kisses them on the cheeks.
The women gossip that the rich and handsome Shete is still unmarried.
An aging woman wearing a nice dress sits in the grass under an umbrella, putting make-up on her face. Children make fun of her. She walks away and runs into Elioz, swimming in a pond. When he reemerges we see that he is fishing for the goldfish. The children noisily announce the arrival of Pupala to the women of the village, who have gathered around a tree. The women mock her aristocratic manners. She used to be very beautiful and boasts that a man was crazy about her and committed suicide when she rejected him. She mourns her only love, Shiola, who died in a war. Children and women mock her haughty manners. Pupala cries looking at the beautiful Marita.
Ioram the anarchist predicts that a "storm" is coming that will wipe out the czar. Tsitsikore replies that the "storm" may kill them all.
Gedya takes a blindfolded Marita to the top of a hill: they are in love.
Ioram keeps preaching progress to children, scolded by Tsitsikore who is wary of progress poisoning their traditional life. Again, Ioram stops when Nargiza smiles at him.
A child prays to a saint that he may help her father Elioz to find the magic tree. He has four little daughters who love him. He bids goodbye and sets out on his quest for the magic tree.
The other madman, Bumbula, the one who preaches the decline of the nation, teaches the children to worship the ancestors who built the walls of the village. The priest sneaks in and takes back the stone that the madman considers holy.
The woman of the disabled child begs the priest to slap the boy. The priest does so and the boy starts running after him to exact revenge. The mother is delighted that the son looks healed, but the boy doesn't give up and the priest has to run for his life. The boy is stopped by Nargiza's smile, like the anarchist. Tsitsikore sees her smile and reproaches her.
The mother of the retarded boy is desperate because the boy is again behaving retarded. She begs the priest to slap him but the priest sends her away.
Shete's mother comes to check out Marita as a possible bride for Shete. Shete is a rich landowner, Gedya is a poor shepherd. Tsitsikore advises Marita's father to marry the girl to Shete. Shete's granma has suffered poverty all her life and agrees: Marita will be rich. Marita's father is reluctant to break her daughter's heart but finally accepts. Marita tells Gedya in tears. Gedya attacks Shete but can't stop the wedding. The whole village attends the ceremony. Only a madman shouts the truth: that the family sold out the "virgin saint".
Pupala, who knows the secret of magic potions, also acts as a doctor for the superstitious women of the village.
A man spots Elioz sitting on top of a tree. It's dangerous and it's getting cold, but Elioz is determined to stay there, waiting for a vision that will help him find the magic tree.
Marita is an obedient wife but unhappy all the time. Shete can't stand it and is turning violent.
It snows overnight and Elioz freezes to death next to a tree that he thought was the magic tree. The priest remarks half-jokingly that Elioz wasted his life searching for the magic tree.
Gedya visits Marita and Marita hugs him ecstatic, but Shete's mother sees them. Next we see Marita on a donkey, facing backwards, followed by her husband Shete and by the whole village. She is paraded through the village and taken on a snowy hill. The priest leads the procession. The other women throw mud at her. Ioram, Bambula and Nargiza (three mad people) try in vain to stop the calvary. Nargiza accuses Tsitsikore of being a beast for allowing this spectacle. Gedya runs to help but is shot dead. Marita dies, presumably stoned to death and her body is abandoned in the mud.
Next, it's spring again: an unseen narrator visits the ruins where Marita used to live. Elioz's elder daughter prays that she may find the magic tree.

Abuladze ridiculed Stalin's regime in the Monanieba/ Pokayaniye/ Repentance (1984), released only in 1987, a much longer film. The allegory of the Stalinist era is subtle and also universal: Avtandil Makharadze plays a caricature of Lavrenti Beria (the sadistic head of Stalinís secret police), but this man's evil haunts also his son (who feels increasingly lonely and weak, a symbolic remark on post-Stalin communism) and his grandson even kills himself (a symbolic prediction of the fate of communism). By not accepting his father's responsibility, the son perpetuates his fatherís sins: by not condemning Stalin, his successors are no less guilty of his crimes. The fish represents Jesus and the moral principles of Christianity, that communism gladly killed and swallowed. The comic allegory has undercurrents of tragedy that culminate in the first Shakespear-ian finale; but then there is another finale, the meta-fictional finale that turns everything upside down. The satire is meant to be universal because the evil bureaucrat is also a composite caricature of four dictators: he has Hitlerís mustache, he wears Mussoliniís black shirt and speaks from a balcony, he wears Stalin's boots, and has Beriaís pince-nez. The film mixes its satirical allegory with surrealistic episodes. Notably, a temporal dissonance mixes the world of the 1930s with medieval knights and 19th century carriages, as if implying that this tragedy was viewed through the eyes of a child.

A woman prepares a big cake and then hands it to a woman who is waiting outside the window. A horse-driven carriage takes her away. The cake baker is shown a newspaper page that announces the death of a former mayor, Varlam. Dignitaries line up to pay their condolences to the family. They all seem to revere him. The following morning Varlam's son Abel and his wife find the corpse of Varlam leaning against a tree in the garden of their mansion. At night they secretly bury the corpse again, but the following morning the corpse is again leaning against the tree in the garden. This time they call the police. The cops decide to arrest the corpse for further investigation. They take him away in a horse-driven carriage. Then they decide to build an iron gate around the tomb. The following morning Varlam's corpse is back. This time the cops deploy sharp shooters in the cemetery and they catch the grave digger: it's a woman, the cake baker, Ketevan. Taken in front of a three-men jury, the woman swears that, as long as she's alive, the former mayor will never rest in peace.
A flashback begins. She is an eight-year-old when Varlam becomes the mayor. During the inauguration she is standing with her young parents on a balcony and she is blowing soap bubbles. We then see a young woman exploring a church that has been turned into a scientific lab, full of futuristic equipment. Her father Sandro, a painter, meets the mayor explaining that the scientific experiments are damaging an ancient monument. Varlam thanks Sandro and orders to stop the experiments. But then the old people who accompanied Sandro are arrested as "spies". Sandro, furious, wants to confront Varlam but Varlam has already released them from prison, another apparent gesture of good will. The mayor pays a visit to Sandro at home. He shows up like a clown, not a politician, like someone who wants to party. He takes a look at Sandro's paintings and seems honestly impressed. He pays compliments to Sandro's wife Nino and even sings opera. His little son Abel plays with little Ketevan. Abel's mother died and Ketevan's mom Nino reassures him that she's alive in paradise. Varlam, little Abel and Varlam's henchmen then jump out of the window, just like circus clowns. The two families seem to become friends. Then we see an oneiric scene in which Sandro and Nino are fleeing chased by Varlam and his troops, some of them riding horses and dressed like medieval knights. We see Sandro and Nino buried in mud, only the faces sticking out. We see Varlam stand up in convertible car and sing opera. It's only a dream in Nino's mind, but Nino sees it as a premonition and begs Sandro to leave the town. Sure enough, armored medieval knights come to confiscate Sandro's paintings and to arrest him (it feels like a dream within a dream). We see that Varlam reported him as a dangerous individualist, friend of anarchists, based on an anonymous letter. Sandro's former teacher Mikhail, who is now a bureaucrat, tries to defend him but he is arrested too. Nino only know that Sandro has been deported somewhere. Nino visits Varlam at his office and gets on her knees. In vain. Relatives of the exiled look for notes scribbled on logs that are coming from the gulags. Nino and Ketevan don't find any from Sandro. Then we see Sandro being interrogated by an elegant pianist, next to a blindfolded woman who holds a scale ("justice"). They want his confession, and they already extorted one from Sandro's former teacher Mikhail, who admitted being the head of a cell of conspirators, acts of sabotage, and even planning a tunnel to India. Back to the town, the mayor gives a speech from a balcony in an exalted tone that mimicks Hitler and Mussolini. While Nino is desperate at home, we see Sandro tried and tortured. Then Varlam's men blow up the town's church, the church that Sandro pleaded for, another ominous sign. Nino finds out that another friend has been arrested, a friend who was supposed to help with Sandro's case. When his trusted stooge gathers by mistakes dozens of innocent people who simply have the last name of a dissident, Varlam orders to arrest them rather than admit the mistake. Varlam's secretary warns Nino that she's about to be arrested too and gives them money and train tickets to flee. But the medieval knights armed with spears come to take her before she can even pack her suitcase. She is then taken to prison in the horse-driven carriage.
The flashback ends. Ketevan never saw her parents again. Back to the courthouse, Ketevan demands that Varlam's own relatives dig up the corpse because burying him properly means to forgive his crimes. Abel (played by the same actor who played Varlam) and his wife Guliko shout that she's a liar, but his son Tornike, Varlam's grandson, is shaken. The boy has a nightmare of his insane grandfather shooting the Sun and dying again. The boy confronts his father Abel and Abel justifies his father Varlam's actions: sacrificing two innocent lives was worthy for the happiness of millions. The boy leaves shouting that he hates his father. He falls into a catatonic depression and the doctor prescribes rest. The boy has a dream of a sexy woman dancing around the dead Varlam, who sleeps comfortably in a palace.
Abel and his wife are worried that the court is leaning towards acquitting Ketevan and she will indeed dig up the corpse every single night. One of Abel's thugs is ready to kill Ketevan and Abel's wife agrees, but Abel is worried that his son will become even more hostile to them if another injustice is carried out. The compromise solution is to declare her mentally ill. Abel, Ketevan's childhood friend, is using his influence to have Ketevan committed to a madhouse. Abel confesses to a priest who is peeling a fish that he is torn, afraid of losing his moral principles. The priest retorts that Abel is not worried about his conscience but about losing his power because his father is being un-buried, and now feels weak, lonely and helpless. Abel admits it and is left wondering what is the meaning of his life. The priest calmly eats his fish and then turns into Abel's father Varlam, launghing that Abel just confessed his sins to the devil. This however is only daydreaming: Guliko shakes his arm and brings him back to reality. They are sitting in the courthouse, listening to the verdict. But Abel realizes that he is holding the skeleton of a fish in his hands... Ketevan repeats to the judges that Varlam is still alive: his evil still corrupts the society. Tornike secretly visits Ketevan and asks for forgiveness because he was the first one to grab her on her grandfather's tomb. Back to Abel's villa, Abel is playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" at the piano for guests when he suddenly stops and confronts his hate-filled son, but the result is that the boy, disgusted by his parents' inability to do what is just, locks himself in his bedroom and shoots himself. Abel is devastated. Abel personally digs up his father's corpse and throws it down a cliff.
The film now returns where it started. Ketevan was preparing a cake and has seen the news that Varlam dies. And so the whole film so far has happened only in her imagination. It was wishful thinking, a fantasy, not her real story. The friend she's talking to claims that Varlam was a good man, as the newspaper says. As a woman asks for directions to a church, we learn that she lives in a street named after Varlam, and that the street doesn't lead to a church. The heroine's tragedy was never vindicated. Varlam is remembered as a hero, and she has to live with the injustice.

Abuladze died in 1994, not having made any more films.

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