'Horizon' ('Horizonti'): Film Review | Berlin 2018

Horizon Still 2 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Gemini
360 degrees of separation.

A married couple undergoes a devastating breakup in Georgian director Tinatin Kajrishvili's latest Berlinale world premiere.

Georgian cinema has enjoyed a sustained mini-boom in recent years thanks to critically lauded festival fare including In Bloom, Corn Island, House of Others and Hostages. Returning to Berlin with her second feature, writer-director Tinatin Kajrishvili maintains the troubled post-Soviet republic's solid track record of modest but beautifully crafted family dramas. Chronicling the emotional and psychological aftershocks of marital breakdown, Horizon is very much a fest-targeted item in its somber tone and subtle detail. It will not set any box-office records, but it is assured further festival platforms and possible niche distribution windows. Tblisi-based media company Alief announced it had acquired world sales rights just before the Berlinale opened.

Kajrishvili's debut feature, Brides, also premiered in Berlin in 2014 before collecting prizes on the wider festival circuit. A Swedish-Georgian co-production, Horizon boasts a little more dramatic bite and technical polish, but both films are closely observed domestic stories co-scripted by Kajrishvili and David Chubinishvili. She is also well-connected in Georgia's burgeoning art house cinema scene, serving as a producer on numerous recent titles including the country's latest official Oscar nominee, Ana Urushadze's terrific 2017 psychodrama Scary Mother.

The first act of Horizon switches between two nonlinear timelines, though the chronology initially feels a little fuzzy. Anguished, haunted, 40-ish family man Georgi (George Bochorishvili) swaps his comfortable middle-class life in the capital city of Tblisi for a lonely lakeside shack on a remote island. Settling in the moldering ruins of a largely abandoned village, he forges tentative friendships with the handful of remaining locals, most of them elderly. But he is clearly struggling under a heavy cloud of debilitating depression.

In intermittent flashbacks, the reason for Georgi's shell-shocked state becomes plain. His wife, Ana (Ia Sukhitashvili), has left him for another man, Niko (Sergo Buigishvili ). Ana hopes to remain on friendly terms, not least for their two young children. But Georgi is caught up in the stormy mood swings of separation, from raging disbelief to resignation, bitterness, blame and self-loathing. His initial failed attempts to maintain an intimate connection with Ana border on sexual assault, and his anger has an undercurrent of latent violence that Kajrishvili treats with a coolly nonjudgmental eye. She is not taking sides here, and allows her devastated male protagonist his full measure of sympathy. Anyone who has ever been through a wrenching breakup will recognize this tortuous psychic terrain.

Georgi's low spirits lift a little when Ana comes to visit him in his rural retreat, only to slump again when his unrealistic hopes of a romantic reunion are dashed. The handsome drawing of Ana that Georgi commissioned to celebrate their meeting hangs forlornly by his bed, cruelly mocking his broken dreams. A further family visit with Niko and the children in attendance also ends bleakly, with no reconciliation possible. The brief exchange between Georgi and a small-town hotel worker offering more personal company also cuts deep as two different kinds of quiet desperation hang awkwardly in the air. Irakli Akhalkatsi's intimate, unfussy camerawork captures each tiny unspoken wound in forensic detail, unsensational but emotionally crushing all the same.

Horizon unspools at an unhurried, lyrical pace. While the two leads give crisp, naturalistic performances, the otherworldly setting is arguably the real star presence here. Kajrishvili's inspired choice of location is a huddle of largely derelict villages that line Lake Paliastomi on Georgia's Black Sea coast. This purgatorial no man's land of rusted barges, reed-choked swamps, waterlogged graveyards and crumbling timber cottages could equally represent the distant past or some dystopian Tarkovsky-esque future. The craggy, careworn villagers might have stepped straight out of a Dostoevsky novel. Captured in flickering low light, the gloomy interior shots resemble Old Master paintings. A nocturnal fire scene is strikingly beautiful, with stark human silhouettes framed against the flames.

Unfolding alongside a snow-covered frozen lake, the story's tragic resolution is both understated and magical, leaving cryptic questions hanging in the air like steamy winter breath. Horizon is a small film by a skilled miniaturist, simple in theme, skeletal in plot, but the dolorous ending still packs a punch. A routine marriage-breakdown story blossoms into something deeper, a timeless meditation on the destructive power of love and the hushed poetry of grief.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama)
Production companies: Gemini, Artizm, Momento Film
Cast: George Bochorishvili, Ia Sukhitashvili, Jano Izoria, Soso Gogichaishvili, Lika Okroshidze, Nana Datunashvili, Sergo Buigishvili, George Beridze
Director: Tinatin Kajrishvili
Screenwriters: Tinatin Kajrishvili, David Chubinishvili
Producers: Tinatin Kajrishvili, Lasha Khalvashi
Cinematographer, editor: Irakli Akhalkatsi
Music: George Khalvashi
Sales company: Alief, Tblisi
105 minutes