'Namme': Film Review

A slow burn but ultimately rewarding.

Georgia’s official Oscar submission is a lyrical coming-of-age fable set in a mystical mountain landscape.

An exacting but absorbing exercise in slow cinema, Zaza Khalvashi's Namme is a hymn to the majestic mountain landscapes and pagan folk traditions of southwest Georgia. A state-funded co-production with Lithuania, Khalvashi's spiritually charged visual poem was Georgia's bold choice of official entry in the foreign language Oscar race. It did not make the final shortlist, but is a worthy addition to this former Soviet republic's ongoing cinematic renaissance.

With its uncompromising high-art style, Namme is clearly pitched squarely at festivals and narrow specialist audiences, but its rarefied beauty and transcendent tone should appeal to fans of the post-Tarkovsky school of meditative mysticism. It makes its U.S. debut at Palm Springs International Film Festival next week.

Although Namme ostensibly take place in contemporary Georgia, with motor vehicles and booming construction projects on the fringes of the action, its folkloric narrative and elemental backdrop feel only loosely moored in modernity. Headlining a mostly nonprofessional cast, Mariska Diasamidze gives a haunted, otherworldly performance as the eponymous heroine, who lives with her sickly, aging father Ali (Aleko Abashidze) in a remote mountain village. Ali is a "water healer," a vital traditional medicine man in rural communities, deriving his powers from a sacred spring and the magical fish that swims in it.

Namme has three older brothers (Roman Bolkvadze, Ednar Bolkvadze, Roin Surmanidze), all of whom declined to carry on their father's profession. With fable-like neatness, one is an Islamic cleric, another a Christian Orthodox priest and the third a philosophy teacher at the local school. Only Namme, the youngest child, grudgingly agrees to step into her father's shoes as village healer. But the role requires her to live an ascetic life untainted by outside distractions like love and marriage. Inevitably, this unworldly young woman is soon torn between tradition and independence, between spiritual calling and earthly temptation.

Exquisite visuals are a key selling point for Namme, especially a final sequence whose fusion of religious and mystical elements with water imagery achieves a Tarkovsky-style lyricism without feeling like clumsy homage. The snowy peaks, mist-shrouded forests and ghostly highland lakes of Adjara in southwest Georgia are all gifts to Khalvashi and his cinematographers, transforming almost every frame into a painterly still life of wintry beauty.

The glacial pacing and elliptical plotting of Namme will test the patience of some viewers. But once you surrender to its opaque characters and drowsy rhythms, the effect becomes contemplative, hypnotic and occasionally sublime. As the final credits roll, a kindly screen note reassures us that "the fish was preserved safely during filming and was returned to its natural habitat afterwards." A pleasingly humble coda whose Biblical symbolism is far from accidental.

Production companies: BAFIS, Tremora
Cast: Mariska Diasamidze, Aleko Abashidze, Adnar Bolkvadze, Ramaz Bolkvadeze, Roin Surmanidze
Director-screenwriter: Zaza Khalvashi
Producer: Sulkhan Turmanidze
Cinematographers: Giorgi Shvelidze, Mamuka Chkhikvadze
Editors: Levan Kukhashvili, Zaza Khalvashi
Sales company: Alpha Violet
91 minutes