Houses Have Memories

in 29th Panorama of European Cinema, Athens

by Angelo Mitchievici

The first step you take in Georgian feature, Russudan Glurjidze, House of Others, places you in a setting of a spectacular beauty; of a Georgian village situated among the hills, where everything is saturated by an intense green. The village, with old houses, seems to be situated in perfect silence, interrupted only by the sound of rain. There is another point-of-view, however, watching through the graded lens of military binoculars. The two perspectives coexist, in silence. Beauty hides atrocity, and contemplation is associated with supervision and a ghost like presence. The Georgian village is not far from the military theatre of the civil war in Abhazia in 1990. The one watching through binoculars is Ira (Salome Demuria), a girl with short hair, dressed like a soldier and with a military attitude. Ira supervises the arrival of a new family in one of the houses, abandoned by villagers who retreated from the occupation or simply from war. The village is deserted and they try to populate it with winning families, bringing into the discussion a double uprooting, those who left – some of whom are hoping to return – and the occupiers. Aside from the two families that populate the village and of soldiers like Ginger (Malkhaz Jorbenadze), who trades in abusive relocations, there is another kind of character: the houses.

They have a special life, one that the director makes felt through the attention he pays to the interiors and in the way in which houses keep something of the intimacy of those who left; their trace evident in objects, furniture placement, clothes, mirrors, and also the restlessness that the houses generate for some of the newcomers. There is a sadness that seems trapped inside the walls, the breath of remaining existence, almost undetectable and which commands whispers or the need to close a door during the night, as felt by the family’s youngest boy. In the newly settled family, the mother, Liza (Olga Dykhovichnaya), tries to change the arrangement of things in order to make the house familiar, while the father, Astamur (Zurab Magalashvili), insists that things should remain as they are. He cannot adapt, cannot live in a space that carries the trace of another life; a place overwhelmed by others’ memories, a haunted place. There is almost a sensual way in which the camera’s perspective touches the objects, probably because most of the ones take on the houses are women. The way in which the light falls changes depending on the postition of a lamp, the time of day, on passing in front of a mirror or on the opening of a window. The women sometimes have fixed attitudes; showing scenes of genre painting such as head washing with the force of an ordinary gesture as in Vermeer’s paintings, or Jan Steen’s. Other times the perspective is focused on the setting or an interior, allowing feeling to swell over an image.

What we see here is that Tarkovskian patience; to remain in the frame until it is overrated, filled by a certain état d’âme. You may have the impression that the Georgian director turns the village into a Tarkovskian ”zone”, where the subtlest detail, the finest move, vibrates strongly, where discussions are almost turned into philosophical interrogation. There are so many layers to the sensibility that the director crafts in a simple discussion over an ordinary subject so that the sparse talking in the film carries a considerable force – in a way, silence becomes another way to continue dialogue. The world that Glurjidze explores is feminine, yet disturbing, restless, unbalanced as in the example of Ira, where everything is revealed in a kiss on a man’s shoulder, or by the peck of an in-love child. From time to time the relationship between women has something of a tinge of anxiety, overwhelmed by the provincial sadness of the feminine Chekhovian characters. The men are at war, even if they make their presence felt, while the only man left home, Liza’s husband, seems devitalized, melancholic, lacking the will to live. As with Edvard Munch’s painting, the anxiety is all around, almost every gesture expresses it, from melancholic tone, to boy-like narrative aggression. Aditza (Ia Sukhitashvili), Ira’s sister, offers herself to Ginger, only to tell him that it is for the first and the last time and, offensively refuses an explanation, a situation that is repeated by her daughter and Astamur’s son, as Ira frightens him with a gun. The characters are strongly individualized, but part of their expressiveness comes from the way they are influenced by the tragedy that takes place not far away. The Freudian repression mechanism sometimes permeates the character’s behaviour, each of them allows themselves to be invaded by a ghost, posing a hallucinated look, fixed in the horizon, of their own disappointment or guilt.

Russudan Glurjidze’s debut has all the features of a film d’auteur.

Edited by Tara Judah