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French Press Shares Interview with Georgian Filmmaker Tornike Bziava

Reporter of French magazine ”FormatCourt” Mathieu Lericq published interview with Tornike Bziava.

Tornike Bziava is a filmmaker accustomed to festivals. If, in certain cases, this fact could be put in the account of a negative injunction, the example of the Georgian film-maker may allow a benevolent reading of it. Because fidelity, it is questioned in his already rich filmography: constant interest in his culture of origin, lucid look at the recent history and trouble of his country, inflexible inclination towards freedom against the various forms of oppression suffered by the civilian population, and finally stylistic inscription in the powerful Georgian cinematic heritage. However, the filmmaker avoids the pitfall of a militant or moralist film, to build stone after stone one of the most original works of East European cinema, resolutely poetic and political. On the occasion of the presentation of his latest opus, Fishing, at the Clermont-Ferrand Festival, Format Court met this atypical and melancholy filmmaker.

Before you made Fishing (in competition this year in Clermont-Ferrand), you were the author of three other highly-rated shorts: April Chill (2010), Nest (2011) and Wake Man (2015). These three works seem to compose a trilogy dedicated to your country of origin and its tragic history: Georgia. Did you feel an urgency to tell this story? How do you feel about a Georgian director?

Tornike Bziava: It seems to me that the period I’m dealing with is a change from one mentality to another. On the political front, Georgia has often faced a difficult situation. I am thinking especially of the time that came out of the conflicts of the 1990s, at a time when the people’s mentality has changed to become more and more aggressive. We opted for erroneous values. I have had difficulty living this evolution by noting emerging attitudes and lack of mutual understanding. At that time, younger generations began to understand what was happening. The importance of drugs during and after the war should not be overlooked either. The political system imposed a very tough regulation, it was called “the drug war”. But corruption has mingled with it, as in most countries in the world. No one has thought of the fate of the people.

The trilogy I have done shows, in fact, three distinct decades; the end of the 1980s with April Chill, the late 1990s with Nest and the 2000s with Wake Man. There have been many tragedies in Georgia throughout this period. Sometimes the films manage to be the adequate guarantors of the historical consciousness. It’s important to analyze what’s happening or what’s going on around you. In my films, I tell personal stories related to my deep feelings. Each one acts according to his identity. I guess it’s because of cultural attachment. The evolutions that I see at work in my country and from abroad, all this touches me. Especially since I live a lot outside Georgia, mainly in Europe, and sometimes in the United States. I can therefore actively reflect on current developments. This distance is also marked by the financing of my films, because all my films depend on co-production with France.

When watching your movies, especially Wake Man, you see your interest in characters of a fairly advanced age. Do you think that focusing on old people is a good way to evoke historical events? Or is it a way of questioning a gap between generations?

T. B.: I was raised by four old women: my father’s mother, and my mother’s three aunts, who lived with us and helped us every day. I feel a great respect for the elderly. The daily was exciting together. They had many experiences, and at the end of their lives, they became loving and fragile. Sometimes old people, most of them, feel burdened. It’s the drama of our lives and we have to take that into consideration. Wake Man talks about that. The film ends with a dance sequence, like most of my other films.

Thanks to the special treatment you give to dance and the focus on dramatic situations, such as the burial in Wake Man, we feel through the images a process of recovery and transformation of a film heritage. For example, there are traces of the cinema of Sergei Paradjanov and that of Tengiz Abouladze. We think of Le Repentir (1987). Was it a conscious process during the making of the movies? Because our culture is very old, Georgians have long been investing in dance in a very emotional way. For me, dance is the only condition for a human being to feel satisfaction, sharing a two-level experience of beauty – bodily and spiritual. And then dance creates a unity, a collective.

I also think that the filmic expression that tends constantly towards negative or depressing stories is not artistically appreciable, even if our task is to analyze the depth of being, or to deal with the need for survival. Humor is necessary in the perception of the world. It’s the same in real life. I believe that good cinema gives signs of what is happening, talking about our feelings, even if it’s not about life itself.

You mention Paradjanov and Abouladze. Of course, these two personalities have made profound changes in our culture. My mother had a friendly relationship with Sergei Paradjanov and he even gave me one of his paintings as a child. The cinematographic sense and the story mode of directors like them were crucial for me. They taught me to see beauty. But they are also people who have lived terrible things in their respective lives, during the time of the Soviet Union. The Repentance of Abouladze was one of the first films to show the absurdity and cruelty of the old system. When inhumanity has invested our lands. Otar Iosseliani also led us to four decades of magical moments, in a different way. I was raised in a family of chefs-operators. My grandfather participated in the beginning of the film industry in Georgia. My mother staged theater and cinema. My theatrical and cinematic education started very early. I enjoyed working with these talented artists.

In realizing Fishing, it seems that your cinema is beginning a radical change. You depict an astonishing situation, outside of a classic narrative, in which a man is arbitrarily arrested by the police, while the links with surrounding characters are selflessly constructed. So your approach follows an evolution, first in terms of themes (from memory to contemporary) and then in terms of staging (from black and white to color). What is the meaning of this change?

Indeed, the realization of Fishing commits to a new way of observing. I wanted to change my angle of perception deeply. This is related to an older desire, that of advancing the action not by editing, but from within a sequence. This explains the use of the sequence shot. Thus, I tried to give the spectators a sense of naturalism, showing how beautiful moments of everyday life could be destroyed by reasons totally external, related to corruption. I also wanted to emphasize the relationship between characters and understanding.

The rules that break these relationships and understanding should disappear. The action of the film takes place around the year 2010, at the beginning of this decade. That said, things have not really changed since. I think we have to talk about the first years of our life to better understand what happens next.

One of the most intriguing aspects of your cinema is the use you make of sound. Apart from the presence of traditional songs, the characters you show are often surprised by the appearance of an off-camera sound. What sense do you give to this distant sound?

If we talk about the sound plan, I would say that it covers the most significant details helping to build and feel an atmosphere, in the cinema as in real life. Imagine a powerful sound that would enter a city … The imagination starts from there. On the other hand, the use of this or that instrument for the soundtrack usually gives an indication of a person’s taste. This inclination matters a lot. No artist can create without this sensitivity to sound.