Since Otar Left

Director: Julie Bertucelli

France-Belgium| 2003. Subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 102 mins.

Otar is a qualified doctor who left Georgia chasing the rainbow of a new life in Paris, but this delightful family drama is really more about the women he left behind. Back in crumbling post-Soviet Tbilisi, his ageing mother Eka (the amazing Esther Gorintin) waits by the phone for his next call, but her devotion leaves Otar’s sister Marina (gritty Nino Khomassouridze) feeling distinctly neglected, while the latter’s daughter Ada (distant-eyed Dinara Droukarova) in turn harbours her own dreams of escape. Bad news filtering through from the French capital may be about to change all their lives, but not perhaps if the old girl remains happily in the dark . . .
Although the scenario could so easily have been played as farce, debut director Julie Bertucelli allows us to get attuned to the people and places before the plot kicks in, and serio-comic deception emerges from a combination of bitter truth and enduring familial affections. There’s a genuine tenderness here as the women wash each other’s hair or massage granny’s feet, expressing their feelings more truthfully than the fractious words often passing between them. Since Eka’s late husband was French, the women even speak French at home, and Otar’s experiences continue the connection. But this is also a story of the tragic collision between la belle France of their imagination and the harsh realities of East-West immigration. With a light dusting of Arvo Part on the soundtrack, proceedings patiently build in emotional resonance, with 90-year-old Gorintin, the absolute star, touchingly wise yet friskily coquettish. A thoroughly deserved winner of the this year’s Cesar (the French Oscar) for best first feature.

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