Everything You Need to Know about Corn and Shifting Islands

in 27th Panorama of European Cinema Festival

by Shy Shegev

It is quite unfortunate that most countries in the world will not commercially distribute Corn Island (Simindis kundzuli). This is not just a festival film, but rather a qualitative nature film. On theother hand, the commercial audience would have some little difficulties, since the movie is alsoquite silent. Even as a nature movie, it is quite unspoken. The whole movie does not carry morethan ten sentences. The first twenty minutes of the film is completely devoid of dialogue, onlyactions and movements.

As an excellent foreign film, which has a pinch of anthropology, we learn in the opening titlesabout a phenomenon, foreign to most us: the river on the border between Georgia and Abkhazia brings winter floods which form small islands from the drifting mountain soil, and it turns out thatthese are very fertile agricultural pieces of land. These islands remain stable from spring to winter,and early bird farmers quickly take over them and plant corn, from which they use and make aliving until winter.

The movie is about an elderly Abkhazian man (superb acting by Ilyas Salman) who comes to a tinyisland near the river bend, and brings his adolescent granddaughter (Mariam Buturishvili). Hebuilds a dwelling and plants corn. And she, hesitant at first, gradually reaches out and helps,initially reluctant about the craft of fishing and fish gutting, but then she does it perfectly all alone. Occasionally, a boat goes by on the river: Sometimes it’s the Georgians and at other times it is the Russians.

Suddenly, this film, which takes place in a heavenly looking region that over goes manygovernmental vicissitudes and filled with different states and various populations that aspire toindependence and disengagement, also receives a political dimension on that small piece of landthat appears out of nowhere and has no ownership (“Whose land is this?”, asks the granddaughter,”…of the Creator’s”, replies her grandfather), as it lays in the heart of a violent territorial dispute.

The heart of the film is a simple detailed description, with a beautiful and mesmerizing cinematography (by Elemér Ragályi) and captivating music (by Iosif Bardanashvili), of a cornfarmer’s life. Hoeing the soil, planting, watering, and then we see the stalks growing, and growing,and becoming a small forest that provides shelter for a defector – while corn cobs are collected.This step by step visual layout of nature is fascinating. In between, the director of the film, George Ovashvili, is trying to tell the spectators, I presume, a thing or two not only about seasons of naturebut also human seasons and human nature; the old grandfather against his maiden granddaughter,on her passage to adulthood, while she discovers her femininity.

This is where the film makes a few light going choices, typical arthouse European cinema of theeighties – in referral to eroticism. The girl becomes mature and discovers the eyes of the hungryand violent armed men around her, and gets scared of it; but she also gets attracted to her owninner strength. Because in the end, and fortunately for the movie, the yearning for eroticism has noreal dramatic role in the story, it remains a kind of seasoning, a homage to the days of Jean de Florette (France, 1986, Dir. Claude Berri) and Manon des Sources (France, 1986, Dir. Claude Berri). You may say this is the film’s weakest moment, where the rest has a primordial energy andmarvelous layout, and although the plot is brief, it is a very communicative and memorable film, which should be commercialized in every major screen house.

Corn Island is the official submission of Georgia to the best foreign language film category of the87th Academy Awards 2015. It has also won the Crystal Globe in the 2014 Karlovy VaryInternational Film Festival, the Grand Prix in the Split International Festival of New Film and theGrand Prize, the 2014 Kinoshok Open CIS and Baltic Film Festival and now the FIPRESCI JuryPrize at the 27th Panorama of European Cinema.

Edited by Steven Yates