A chance encounter between a pharmacist and a footballer opens up a world of magic and romance in Aleksandre Koberidze’s second feature, an endlessly enchanting fable from the Georgian director. The world of What Do We See may be populated with dogs that watch football, curses that transform people and sentient drainpipes, but its story and emotions are as universal and quotidian as they come.
After meeting twice by chance on a single day, Giorgi (Giorgi Ambroladze) and Lisa (Oliko Barbakadze) fall in love and agree to meet the following night in a nearby bar. On the way home, four friends – a seedling, a camera, a drainpipe and the wind – try to warn Lisa that she and Giorgi are cursed and doomed to fail, but the fourth and most crucial piece of information – told by the wind – is lost. When Giorgi and and Lisa go home, they are transformed overnight (to be played by Giorgi Bochorishvili and Ani Karseladze). When they arrive for their date the next day they no longer recognise each other.
The consequences of the curse reach beyond a botched date: Lisa is forced to leave her job as a pharmacist, while Giorgi can no longer play for the local football team. Lisa finds a job selling ice cream at a local cafe while (cruelly) Giorgi finds gainful employment from the same cafe owner, hawking fairground bets to passersby on the local bridge. As Giorgi and Lisa unknowingly cross paths every day, life ebbs and flows all around them. Boys call out for their friend, hoping that he will share their football with them. Later, as the sun filters through the trees in afternoon joy, the ball is lost over a fence to float serenely, mournfully away down the river.
And indeed like a river, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky’s rhythm flows and meanders, never quite deliberately but never without direction, moving from one moment to the next in a dreamlike stream of consciousness. Where the plot flows through water, Koberidze’s classical piano score evokes the air and cinematographer Faraz Fesharaki frames his subjects with the sun, lighting his subjects from behind, transforming them into ethereal beings.
Koberidze’s world is constructed of a wonderfully banal magical realism. Unkempt street dogs arrange to meet to watch the football, falling out with when one misses the agreed meeting time. Drainpipes warn of curses; playing cards break them, and all around life continues as it does in our world. At 150 minutes, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? could easily have been shorter and still achieved its intended emotional and aesthetic effects. But a river isn’t less pleasant for meandering before it reaches the ocean: if this is how it has to happen before we lose the thread of Lisa and Giorgi’s lives in the flow of others, then so be it.