Street Days -- Film Review

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Absurdity and despair, in equal measure, infuse the decaying urban landscape of the Tbilisi-set "Street Days."

The dark comic drama centers on a middle-aged junkie's struggle to maintain his moral decency while scrounging for a fix. Georgian filmmaker Levan Koguashvili's first narrative feature is a keenly observed portrait of a man who's no less affecting as a character for being emblematic of a run-down society. The film received its North American premiere in the Los Angeles Film Festival's International Showcase.

Guga Kotetishvili, in his debut film role, delivers a lead performance of depth and shuffling grace as Checkie. Scruffy and soulful, he has all but relinquished his dignity, hanging out with fellow fortysomething addicts who cluster like truants outside the school they once attended -- and where Checkie's 7-year-old son is enrolled. When successful former classmates loom into view, Checkie ducks, but he never manages to avoid face-to-face encounters, in particular with ostentatiously well-to-do Zaza (Zura Sharia), whose professed willingness to help amounts to empty gestures.

The help Checkie needs is money, to score drugs and bail out his beleaguered ex-wife (the excellent Rusudan Kobiashvili), whose secondhand-clothing business has failed and who is trying to save her flat from repossession. In search of a loan, he awkwardly navigates the bourgeois festivities of a party at Zaza's, a setting that accentuates how ill-equipped he is for the brave new world of capitalism.

A group of neighborhood teens, on the other hand, view the world as a place with no limitations. Zaza's son, Ika (Irakli Ramishvili), spearheads their scheme to raise cash so they can try heroin -- seeing only the romantic adventure and coolness quotient of a new experience. "One should try everything in this life, no?" Ika says to Checkie, who reluctantly cuts a deal with him. Cast as a bunny in the school play and gangster-posturing on his own time, Ika is one of the few people who sees Checkie as a good man and who inspires his selflessness after corrupt cops put Checkie in an impossible situation.

Koguashvili uses the deteriorating streets and buildings of Tbilisi to eloquent effect, showcasing the almost ludicrous underground economy amid the semi-ruins: One man hawks a refrigerator, another deals morphine bought from needy cancer patients. A sympathetic stranger is a rare find, and shame and distrust are rampant, even within families. Sparingly used jazz horns, wailing low in the mix, voice the lament that runs through the story like the memory of not-too-distant bloody clashes.

Some of its plot mechanics err on the side of the obvious, but in the gritty, low-key realism of its strong performances, "Street" finds an absorbing mix of comic anguish and twisted hope -- especially in the devastating self-knowledge of Kotetishvili's gaze.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Production: Independent Film Project/Moving Pictures, with the participation of Georgian Public Broadcasting and the support of the Georgian National Film Center
Cast: Guga Kotetishvili, Rusudan Kobiashvili, Irakli Ramishvili, Aleko Begalishvili, George Kipshidze, Zura Sharia
Director: Levan Koguashvili
Screenwriters: Levan Koguashvili, Boris Frumin, Nikoloz Marri
Producers: Arhil Gelovani, Levan Korinteli, Gia Bazgadze
Director of photography: Archil Akhvlediani
Production designer: Kote Japaridze
Music: Rezo Kiknadze
Costume designer: Tinatin Kvinikadze
Editor: Nodar Nozadze
No rating, 85 minutes
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