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Drawing on the bitter personal experiences of director Tinatin Kajrishvili and her co-writer husband David Chubinishvili, Brides is a crisp female-focused social drama about the heartbreak and humiliation endured by a young woman with a jailed partner. A Franco-Georgian co-production shot in Tblisi, Kajrishvili’s debut feature joins the ranks of Georgia’s uneven but sporadically excellent New Wave that includes Leven Koguashvili‘s Street Days and Blind Dates, Zaza Rusadze‘s A Fold In My Blanket, and last year’s festival-prize winner In Bloom from co-directors Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross.
Making its U.S. debut at the Tribeca festival on April 18 following its world premiere at the Berlinale in February, Brides has plenty of potentially gritty subject matter but lacks dramatic power. Targeted squarely at culturally curious festival audiences, it seems most likely to remain a minor ripple in the Caucasian republic’s embryonic New Wave.
Gaunt, haunted-looking theater veteran Mari Kitia plays Nutsa, a 30-ish-year-old mother struggling to scrape a living in the suburbs of Tblisi with two young children, while partner Goga (Giorgi Maskharashvili) is midway through a long jail sentence for an unspecified crime. Every month, Nutsa makes the grueling cross-country trip to join an unruly all-ages throng of women desperate to see their menfolk behind bars. Visiting rules are narrow and obstructive, prison staff harsh and unsympathetic. Nutsa and Goga conduct their tense meetings through thick panes of glass, with the added unspoken heartbreak of two bored and impatient kids who barely recognize their long-absent father.
The film’s title refers to new rules which allow the women to marry their partners in brusque wedding ceremonies inside the jail, thus granting them easier access. In the midst of her marriage plans, Nutsa learns from a well-connected family friend that she might be able to lessen Goga’s sentence by bribing a public official, but the scheme backfires bitterly. A dishy young stranger also flirts with her, but she resists his gentle advances. In the final act, Nutsa and her fellow brides are permitted to join their menfolk for an overnight visit in newly constructed chalets inside the prison grounds, a kind of grim parody of a holiday village.
Brides is a technically competent drama with an edge of political protest, well-acted and handsomely filmed by Goga Devdariani, who also shot last year’s A Fold in My Blanket. But it is frustratingly low on background information for non-locals, with not enough social context to give the narrative moral or emotional heft. Georgia’s stormy post-Soviet history has seen a series of civil wars, coups, revolutions and border skirmishes with Russia that left its correctional facilities full-to-bursting. It was only last year that incoming Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvil brought in sweeping new amnesty laws designed to lessen jail overcrowding and free hundred of political prisoners.
Sadly, overseas viewers will not glean even these sketchy details from watching Brides. Perhaps Kajrishvili and Chubinishvili intended to make a universal fable from their autobiographical experiences, but the results are too dramatically thin to strike a common chord. Their oddly non-committal narrative is particularly coy about sex, which does not even merit a mention during the conjugal prison visits, as if human nature itself has been sanitized for socially conservative Georgian audiences. Thus a rich and complex subject is rendered too personal, too parochial.
Production companies: Gemini, Millimeter Films, Ad Astra Films
Producers: Tinatin Kajrishvili
Starring: Mari Kitia, Giorgi Maskharashvili, Anuka Grigolia, Giorgi Makharadze
Director: Tinatin Kajrishvili
Screenwriters: Tinatin Kajrishvili, David Chubinishvili
Cinematographer: Goga Devdariani
Editor: David Guiraud
Music: Rim Laurens
Sales company: Rezo Films, Paris
Unrated, 94 minutes
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Jamie Lee Curtis
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