"The Other Bank": Borders Inside Us By Gulnara Abikeyeva

in 59th Berlinale

by Gulnara Abikeyeva

In reality, a good film has a special appealing quality: the film is taking your breath away; it is full of charm, embraces you and then lets you go only after the very last shot. Those types of films are very few even in a grand film festival such as the Berlinale. The Georgian film The Other Bank (Gagma Napiri) belongs to this type of exceptional film. George Ovashvili has an artistic taste for making films. What are the rhythm and editing, the right actors, landscapes, emotions and thoughts that this full-length feature debut gives birth to? It is hard to say… Overall, it is obvious that it is a special world which you start to believe in and it touches your soul.

From the very first shots of the film, we see a 12-year-old boy with squinting eyes and it becomes clear that the film would tell the story of people who have been made indignant by the war. However, it is too early to judge which war — is it the recent three day war between Georgia and Russia or the seven-year-old war between Georgia and Abkhazia? We only see the faces of people on which suffering is engraved. But not in a single episode of the film the director is down low to sentimentality. It is exactly as in life: compassion, tears, sympathy appear only when the most fearsome moment is in the past. The main character of the film — a boy with squinting eyes, called Tedo — will find that all the difficulties and ordeals are ahead of him. Because he is doing what other children are not ought to do: he is going to find his father at the other shore, where the war is going on. Another boy, and a friend of Tedo, is trying to stop him because Tedo does not speak either Abkhazian or Russian, while Georgians are hated on the other shore. So, he suggests that Tedo acts as if he is deaf and mute.

Overall, there are many things that children ought not to do. They ought not to steal and give the stolen money to their mothers in order to stop them continuing earning money with prostitution. A friend of Tedo is a thief. He is a refugee from Abkhazia and would not smell glue to forget that his parents died and he would never have his own home — but he does; the grey basement he lives in would be his permanent home. In the stressful situations, Tedo is closing his eyes tightly and conveys this almost childish reaction to what is happening as if he does not want to see the reality around him. But because no adult is normally reacting to situations at present — he opens his eyes and starts the fight how he knows ‘the fight’. These include attempting to stop the rape of a girl in the car by car-thieves and the killing of the man by Russian military men on the border between Georgia and Abkhazia. In reality, he is unable to prevent anything. As if he was a puppy, he is thrown out, pushed out and chased away. Good, they keep him alive!

And now there is a feeling of pain, resentment, unfairness and helplessness that the audience feels as well as Tedo’s soul and now it feels it is not the film hero looking for his father. It feels that you are personally appearing in the deserted Abkhazian village with the hope of finding your father, who will embrace you and protect you — forever putting the long road to find him — aside, as well as the pain and suffering you have gone through. But there is no one in the village, only empty houses, broken windows, empty apartment where no one lives. It is a blessing that there was a neighboring old lady around; otherwise, Tedo would have died under the snow. She tells him that his father is alive and he has married an Abkhazian woman because otherwise he would not have stayed alive. He has two daughters, who Tedo is out to accept and love. The last time Tedo saw his father was when he was four years old. It is the exactly the time when the war started between Georgia and Abkhazia. This was exactly the time when Tedo and his mother were forced to run to Georgia and the father stayed because he was very ill then. Seven years have passed and an entire life has been lived by his father. He married, now has two children, but the conflict between the bordering nations has turned into unbearable animosity.

I do not recall if any of the Georgian or Caucasus cinematographers have properly shown the world all the pain and the tragedy of this conflict. All we see in the TV news are either military actions or political demonstrations. In reality, we do not know how it feels to be present and be part of the conflict. George Ovashvili is not looking for political solutions for the conflict; he is simply and frankly trying to show how people live on this shore and the other one.

The strongest episode of the film is the ending: Tedo, who has packed to travel back, falls prey to the Abkhazian men — it is not obvious whether they are civilians or the military — who decided to make a picnic, but first to hunt and then relax. He is shaking and crying as a child. Well, he is a child. He realizes that his life does not have any value and those Abkhazian men hate Georgians. And right now he decides to act as deaf and mute. Men laughed at him a bit, started to calm him down, gave him food and then started to sing and dance inviting the boy to the center of the dancing circle. Tedo has forgotten about his act of being deaf and mute and he is starting to dance — and here it is clear that the only thing that divides the people is language and politics, but the? have mutual traditions and culture — and they understand each other very well without words. The meaning of this is that the borders are, first of all, inside us! And this is how the film is cut — Tedo who is dancing stops for a moment to realize what is happening. This question is left in the hearts of the audience.

It is exactly in the hearts of people this scene is left, while the entire film is received only through the heart of every person in the audience. Overall, the film is not only about the regional Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. This film is about the war and any kind of natural disasters are distorting the natural flow of things. And those who suffer the most from this are children. Because this is the order in the community and society, if someone stops fulfilling its duties, then people disappear from nature. Duties are carried on the shoulders of weaker and less protected members of society.

There were several other films that addressed this issue at the 59th Berlinalel — the Turkish My Only Sunshine, the South Korean Treeless Mountain, the Lebanese Niloofar and others. However, The Other Bank was one of the best because, aside from social themes, the nature of filmmaking has been portrayed in it.