Blind Dates (Shemtkhveviti paemnebi): Berlin Review

Sopho Gvritishvili in Blind Dates
This dry comedy, marbled with sadness and desperation, is consistently winning even if some of its narrative digressions dally too long.

Georgian director Levan Koguashvili’s second feature seamlessly blends pro and non-pro actors for this loveable comedy-drama about sad-sack men and strong women.

Consistently winning, even when some of its narrative digressions go on too long, Georgian director Levan Koguashvili’s second feature Blind Dates seamlessly blends pro and non-pro actors for a loveable comedy-drama about sad-sack men and strong but beleaguered women. More comical and set on a wider canvas than Koguashvili’s well-received 2010 debut, Street Days, the director’s latest builds on the promise of that first film with a more hopeful portrait of Georgian society, despite its economic woes and refugee problem. After premiering in Toronto, where the original title was listed as Brma Paemnebi, Blind Dates has chalked up air miles with visits to festivals in Abu Dhabi and Palm Springs before landing most recently in Berlin’s Forum sidebar.

Fortysomething Sandro (Andro Sakvarelidze), a high-school teacher, still lives at home with his parents (Kakhi Kavadze and Marina Kartsivadze), who nag him constantly about his unmarried state, forming a hilarious double act that would have been right at home in Yiddish theater. In the opening scene, Sandro’s best friend Iva (Archil Kikodze), the high-school’s soccer coach, persuades Sandro to meet a couple of women for a blind date, but only brittle Lali (Marika Antadze) shows up (the other blind date, played by Sopho Shakarishvili, comes into the story later in a scene that neatly bookends the film). Although there’s a palpable lack of chemistry between them, Sandro and Lali vow to meet again in a week, but a lot happens in the meantime.

A couple of days later, during a trip to beautifully bleak seaside town, Sandro and Iva run into one of their students, the female soccer team’s star player Anna, who’s visiting the city with her mother Manana (the luminous Ia Sukhitashvili, who was great also in Rusudan Chkonia’s Keep Smiling). A tentative spark ignites between Sandro and Manana during a beach game of footie and vodka in the pouring rain, but there’s a hitch. Manana is already married to macho, violent, chronically jealous Tengo (Vakhtang Chachanidze).

That might not have been a problem since he’s been in jail for a couple of months, but suddenly he’s getting released early and Sandro, the poor love-sick schnook, ends up driving Manana to the jail to meet him. Not realizing there’s a connection between Manana and Sandro, Tengo hires Sandro to be his driver for the day so he can run some errands around town. These include seeing his mistress Nadia (Sopho Gvritishvili), an ethnic Georgian refugee from war-torn Abkhazia who’s pregnant, and trying to pull a complicated fast one on the family of another inmate to raise money to pay an abortion Nadia doesn’t want to have. The latter subplot, a tonal shift that’s mildly interesting and a bit reminiscent of the director’s previous feature, nevertheless feels a bit too much like a distraction from hangdog Sandro, who’s pushed into the background for a little too long to make room for yet more characters.

Once Sandro, Manana and Iva return to center-stage, the film gets back on a more even keel,with more humorous antics, for instance when Nadia’s volatile family mistakenly believe Sandro’s the one who got her pregnant. But even here, in one of the film’s funniest scenes, there’s a shadowy streak of sadness running through it, marbled right into the very fabric of the shabby, Soviet-era housing where the refugees are forced to live.

Location choices and production design all work in subtle harmony here to illustrate the different types and classes of people at play, while the colors in the costumes subconsciously suggest affinities between different characters, like Sandro and Manana, right for each other chromatically but kept apart by the fickleness of fate. Cinematography by Tato Kotetishvili usually observes events drily from a distance, all the better to emphasize the funny business within the frame.

Venue: Berlin Festival (Forum), also in Toronto

Production: Milimeter Film, Tato FIlm

Cast: Andro Sakvarelidze, Ia Sukhitashvili, Archil Kikodze, Vakhtang Chachanidze, Kakhi Kavadze, Marina Kartsivadze, Marika Antadze, Sopho Gvritishvili, Jano Izoria, Sopho Shakarishvili

Director: Levan Koguashvili

Screenwriter: Boris Frumin, Levan Koguashvili, Andro Sakvarelidze

Producers: Suliko Tsulukidze, Levan Koguashvili, Olena Yershova

Director of photography: Tato Kotetishvili

Production designer: Kote Japharidze

Costume designer: Tinatin Kvinikadze

Editors: Nodar Nozadze

Sales: Film Boutique

No rating, 99 minutes

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