Emancipation from Mundane Reality

in 17th Festival of Central and Eastern European Film - goEast, Wiesbaden

by Mariana Hristova

The ten fiction and six documentary films in the competition program of the 17 th edition of goEast festival in Wiesbaden certified a tendency that has been growing in Eastern European cinema for quite some time now. What stands out as a common leitmotif in most works is an urge for emancipation. Whether it be from war traumas or political reforms that have been dominating the cinema of the region for a long time, or patriarchal family boundaries, the “breaking free” spirit is tangible in both fiction and documentary films. Directors go back to focus more on universal themes such as interpersonal relationships, individual freedom and social connections despite – or at the background – of historical events, which are not so much in focus anymore. Eternal questions are at stake with or without the burden of everyday post-war, post-totalitarian or simply discouraging reality.

The Georgian-French co-production My Happy Family (Chemi bednieri ojakhi) is the quintessence of this tendency and it interprets the theme of emancipation in its literal and most popular, feminist-related sense, however in an original way, true to the authentic environment of the conflict. It features the Tbilisian middle-aged teacher, daughter, wife and mother Manana, who leaves her home, occupied by three generations, for good, so she can start a new life on her own. Her relatives, even those who support her, are shocked, and some of them are truly scandalized by her decision, moreover she does not explain the reasons but simply stands for her right of an adult to decide for herself. Without much verbal explanation, the contrast between the always crowded and noisy family home and her humble and peaceful one bed-room apartment speaks for itself. The family members epitomize a collective portrait of social norms; they resemble a Greek tragedy choir which “comments” on her actions, while traditional male choir singing plays a reconciliatory role in the plot. As the directors of the film Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross say, such a life decision would be a very rare case in Georgia and they actually “don’t know a woman of her age who had done this.” 1 However, the gatherings and quarrels of the family are still shown with a slight irony and a gentle mockery, so that we can feel that nevertheless, they are people who deeply love each other, despite all circumstances. After all, My Happy Family is a film that strives to restore poetry in life by using an expressive palette of colors or by bringing attention to simple moments: spring rain, refreshing wind, a delicate smile over a glass of wine.

Manana embodies most possible female roles within one character, except that of a lover. It is clear that her battle is not for sexual liberation, but mostly for personal Independence. ‘In the 90s, says Ekvtimishvili, ‘if one person was earning money, it was quite normal to share with others to buy food and to pay bills and so on. In the 90s, this kind of family structure saved us all somehow. Those were very difficult times in Georgia.’ 2 But when physical survival and child care are not that much at stake anymore, all suppressed needs of the soul burst into the open. And the face of Ia Shugliashvili as Manana, genuinely expresses the whole emotional range from hesitation to stubbornness, from suffocation to relief, from boredom to triumph.

The social significance of My Happy Family might be predicated on its specific context, but what would make it last, is the eternal existential question “Who are you?” which – albeit being asked out loud only once at the very finale – permeates the overall atmosphere of the film. An answer is not even necessary, what matters is the act of asking oneself.

Edited by Christina Stojanova