When the End Is Already Known

in 67th Berlin International Film Festival

by Salome Kikaleishvili

The world premiere of Hostages (Mdzevlebi) was held as part of the 67 th  Berlin International Film Festival. The film, directed by Rezo Gigineishvili is based on a tragic story about a plane- hijacking attempt that took place in soviet Georgia in the 1980s.

Hostages is based on a real-life event that happened on November 18 th , 1983. Seven Georgian youngsters hijacked a TU- 134 passenger plane heading to Batumi from Tbilisi Airport.

The hijackers were going to land in Turkey and afterwards flee to the west, where they thought a good life would await them – in the land of freedom, America. However, everything turned out differently. The hijackers’ plans were foiled when they discovered that, instead of heading to Turkey, the plane returned to Tbilisi airport.

The plane was stormed by a special squad. There were 57 passengers and seven crew members on board. As is indicated in the reports on the case, 108 bullets were fired at the plane from the outside, and seven people, including two hijackers, were killed.

Among the hijackers were Gega Kobakhidze, 22, an actor, and his wife, Tina Petviashvili, a student. The couple got married the day before the incident. Petviashvili was the only female hijacker. In the trial she was the only one who had escaped capital punishment. She was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Rezo Gigineishvili, the film director, researched the subject for eight years. Together with Lasha Bughadze, a scriptwriter and playwright, he collected materials at the archives preserved at the MI (Ministry of Information) and the victims’ families, and studied old interviews and interrogation records.

Although the director’s task was not to create a documentary (in the movie the characters’ names were changed), he found it impossible to avoid an endless circle – “the hijackers” were, are, and always will be the main theme and will be subject to continuous political speculations. It gave grounds to many questions that are still unanswered and the event is still a subject of fierce debates, equally as it was then, 34 years ago.

The days prior to the wedding, the wedding party itself and the hijacking compose the three major episodes around which everything in the film develops. Whether you are watching the final scene where the law-enforcers are escorting rioters, all covered in blood and white-faced with fear, or the bride and groom dancing happily amidst the wedding party noise and whooper-dooper – throughout the film you feel as if locked in a gloomy, sweltering environment.

Whether it be stylistically and/or emotionally, the film strongly conveys the message that you memorize those naive, confident faces with courage and fear flashing across them from time to time. But without realizing the context, it will just remain a story of guys who tried to hijack the plane. They just tried and that’s it.

It feels like there is something missing and that’s probably due to the fact that trimming those vast, multi-layer materials down to a single fragment, hijacking, makes it almost impossible to analyze it as a whole, to see the broader picture.

Who is actually the hostage there? Those who try, through violence, to free themselves of the clutches of life, or the civilians who find themselves in captivity on board a plane? Although this question remains ambiguous in the film’s title, either the accelerated infantilism, the characters’ panic-driven fear or the conversation between Tina and Nika’s mother at the end of the film, make you realize that the authors couldn’t completely distance themselves from the characters. Despite their attempts to gently walk on the sharp edge of history, a mythical tint could still be felt in the film.

Recalling one moment when the plane is forced to land in Tbilisi: the hijackers refuse to release the hostages. Two hostages are dripping with blood and there are other wounded people as well. Then they choose one of the hostages and send him outside to report the situation. Some monotonous sounds is heard in the plane. Suddenly, you see the small hands of a hostage boy playing “Nu, pogodi” (‘I’ll get you!’, a soviet-time portable game), collecting eggs in a basket. There are tears running down his face, gushing from his eyes.

But the most memorable moment is the scene at the wedding. It’s Nika’s house. It’s getting dark. The guests are in the room, celebrating the young couple’s wedding and seeing them off to the airport. Nika and Tina are setting out for their honeymoon, leaving for Batumi. When Nika leaves the house, you can see his face, as if he is pondering over something and then…he turns around and returns home. He goes from one person to another, kissing, pinching, tickling or telling them something, he is kidding around and even ducks under the table. The camera is following him, focused on each emotion. There is background music or, to be more precise, a cacophony which resembles the sounds coming from a rehearsal room, something chaotic and unsmooth. As you watch that episode and hear that noise, you are gripped by an unspeakable feeling of anxiety.

I have not seen such an effective claustrophobic environment and the Soviet Union so up close for a quite some time. The credits for this certainly goes to Kote Japaridze, a production designer, and the cameraman Vladislav Opeliants. The cast is also good, especially Darejan Kharshiladze playing Nika’s mother. The ambiance doesn’t let you relax for a second throughout the entire 103 minutes. Hostages is a drama without catharsis.

Edited by Yael Shuv

Note: Article also was published on the www.jam-news.net.