If there was an award for best newcomer in world cinema then Georgia would be a great outside bet. In recent years, films like Rusudan Chkonia’s Keep Smiling, Levan Koguashvili’s Blind Dates and Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross’ In Bloom have emerged from the Caucus region to resounding acclaim. Rusudan Glurdjidze’s haunting drama House of Others looks set to continue this momentum; an assured debut by a director clearly attuned to the indiscernible frequencies of the human soul.
Inspired by Glurdjidze’s own experiences, House of Others is set in Abkhazia, where the painful scars of war still punctuate the peace and tranquillity of the bucolic landscape. Set in the early 1990s, ‘Just after the war’, the film opens on a family zigzagging through the mountainous countryside. Astamur (Zurab Magalashvili), his wife Liza (Olga Dykhovichnaya), their ten-year-old son Leo (Sandro Khundadze) and their small daughter are moving to their new home in a remote village that was completely abandoned during the war. They’re driven by Ginger (Malkhaz Jorbenadze) an opportunist who fervently preaches the virtues of the local area.
Ginger explains how the thin skins of the tangerines growing in the neighbouring meadow makes them extra sweet, but once inside it’s clear he’s sugarcoating the village’s appeal and their new home is a ghost town. House of Others explores the relationship between place and the people who live there. Concerned more with themes of connection, permanence and transience, than wartime displacement, the mood and tone is closer to that of a ghost story than an anti-war film; albeit one observed from the vantage of the deceased. Assuming that places contain a trace memory of the people who lived there before, Gorka Gómez Andreus allows his camera to pan eerily through the rooms of these deserted homes, as if lurking in the shadows.
Astamur’s family isn’t entirely alone, and in the adjoining house another family observe their new neighbours through the crosshairs of some military grade binoculars. Their house contains three women, two sisters, Ira (Salome Demuria) and Azida (Ia Sukhitashvili), and Azida’s teenage daughter, Nata (Ekaterina Japhardze). They initially receive their new neighbours with trepidation but it doesn’t take long for Neta and Leo to become close friends, running through the deserted village together in plastic capes, like transparent ghosts haunting a land trapped between the world of the living and the dead. Glurdjidze’s approach to the past mirrors Tarkovsky’s use of nature to evoke elements of childhood memories.
Whilst certain visual motifs are reminiscent of the Russian master, with Glurdjidze also favouring long meditative shots built upon slow natural rhythms and the employment of surreal elements into an already otherworldly visual palette, this is very much the director’s own creation. A film about inherited guilt, layered with the myths and horrors of the past, House of Others encompasses both the domestic and the horrific to dismantle the bricks and mortar of memory and in doing so has fashioned a profoundly haunting story of loss and the lasting effects of war.
This year’s Odessa International Film Festival runs from 15-23 July. For more info visit oiff.com.
Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble