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A Trip to Karabakh

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By Laura Specker*

The Messenger, Georgia
Jan 13 2006

While waiting to see 'A Trip to Karabakh' (Georgia, 2005) in the crowded Amirani cinema Wednesday night, surrounded by men and women speaking Georgian, I quickly realized that I was quite distinctly the only American in the establishment. Perhaps this should have tipped me off to the kind of cinematic experience I was about to have, but I was not flustered. I was under the impression that the film would be complete with clear English subtitles.

Unfortunately, I had no such luck. As the film began and a flurry of Georgian unaccompanied by a translation confronted me, I was faced with a decision. Do I walk out of the theatre or stick it out? My immediate reaction was to leave and spend my night in a more productive pursuit. But as I sat in the comfortable high-backed chairs, and I watched the screen, something made me stay.

What I had noticed was that the film before me was not usual cinematic fare. I was struck by its flawless cinematography, vivid color, and the expression with which the actors spoke. Even if I could not understand their speech, I felt that I understood their intention.

This is not possible in all films. Many rely on the script, rather than the feelings behind it, to drive the movie forward. But the real heart of cinema lies in the subscript, in the hopes and desires of the characters represented onscreen. When a film is able to access the true nature of its characters, then its purpose will be communicated, whether the words are there or not.

My experience watching 'A Trip to Karabakh' reminded me of when I first saw 'In the Mood For Love', a film by director Wong Kar-Wai.

This film contains almost no dialogue, and yet it clearly conveys the conflicting emotions accompanying the unusual situation that two people in Hong Kong find themselves in. As such, it has become an international cult classic.

In a similar way, I felt that I understood the characters in 'A Trip to Karabakh,' which is directed by Levan Tutberidze and stars Levan Dobordshinidse, Mischa Meskhi, and Nutsa Kutshianidse. Their feelings were apparent on their faces, in their hands, and through various cinematic devices that we normally take for granted. For example, clothing often betrays character. The main character wears dark, plain colors that convey a serious temperament, while his 'sidekick' sports colorful, loose shirts, and his more aloof. Furthermore, the proximity of the camera to an actor's face gives a notion of intimacy, while the wide shot of a landscape gives the sense of possibility. Therefore, I did not need to hear the actors tell me what they felt, because I could see it.

Of course, for Georgians 'A Trip to Karabakh' is not the same as 'In the Mood For Love', because most members of the audience are able to understand the film's rich dialogue. They probably better understood the plot, which (as I understood it) involves two friends traveling from Georgia to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a de-facto independent Armenian region in Azerbaijan, to buy drugs. Their plans fall through when they are captured by authorities and put in prison, and later separated by enemies of their captors. As the main character struggles with the tumultuous politics of the region, as well as his own romantic politics, he undergoes inner changes and returns to Georgia a different man.

I'm sure that a Georgian's judgment of the film will be different from my own. However, for those English-speakers who are hesitant to explore Georgian culture and art because they don't understand the language, I would advise that language is not always necessary to establish a bond between artist and audience. In the realm of cinema, especially well-made cinema, a world may be found in sights and sounds - no words required.

"A Trip to Karabakh" is showing at the Amirani Cinema on 36 Kostava St. (99 05 42) every night at 21:00 until further notice.

  • Laura is a sophomore student at Williams College in Massachusetts,

U.S.A. She is the Arts Editor of the college newspaper, The Williams Record. She is currently pursuing a degree in philosophy and is interested in international film studies. She can be reached at

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Variety July 17, 2006 - July 23, 2006

(GEORGIA) A Studio Remka production. (International sales: Studio Remka, Tbilisi, Georgia.) Produced by Levan Korinteli, Giorgy Kharabadze.

Directed by Levan Tutberidze. Screenplay, Aka Morchiladze, Irakli Solomonashvili, based on a novel by Morchiladze. Camera (color), Goran Pavicevic; editor, Niko Tarielashvili, Boris Machytka; music, Nukri Abashidze; production designers, Gogi Tatishvili, Kote Japaridze; sound (Dolby SRD), Michael Houdek. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival (Contemporary Cinema), June 18, 2006. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: Levan Doborjnidze, Misha Meskhi, Nutsa Kichianidze, Nino Kasradze, Gogi Kharabdze, Dato Iashvili, Daria Drozdovskaya, Avetik Sanosian, Gagik Melkumov, Artavazd Paloian, Levon Chidilian.

(Georgian, Russian, Armenian dialogue.)

"A Trip to Kharabakh" gets off to a fascinating start, commenting wryly on the tumultuous state of affairs in Georgia and its strife-wracked neighbors. But a shift toward mock heroics and an increasingly vague p.o.v. cause a terminal fuel shortage as it approaches the finish line. This "Trip" requires a good grasp of regional politics to sort out the players and find the humor.

However, even those in the know will find the story gets unnecessarily muddled, which will limit the journey to specialized fests and limited DVD play.

Veteran helmer Levan Tutberidze sets his initially "Mean Streets"-like tale during overlapping civil wars of the early 1990s, but there's little to distinguish what's happening then with what's happening today.

Gio (Levan Doborjnidze) is a handsome, notably unmotivated lynchpin among restless young men in their early 20s. When a relative asks him to travel to a peasant region disputed by Azerbaijan and Armenia, to complete a seemingly simple drug deal, he and goofy pal Gogliko (Misha Meskhi, playing Richard Edson to the protag's Heath Ledger) agree to go.

They take a wrong turn, however, and end up behind Azeri lines.

Eventually Gio busts loose and ends up with friendlier Armenians.

(Both sides say how much they like Georgians --- it's just the other group that's no good.) Gio can't tell if he's a guest or prisoner, but --- as we learn in challengingly structured flashbacks --- it actually makes for a handy break from pressures at home, where his big-enchilada dad (Gogi Kharabdze) has come down hard on him for hooking up with a sad-eyed hooker ("The Good Thief's" Nutsa Kichianidze).

And the old man doesn't realize yet that Gio is also having it off with dad's pretty, if cynical, young wife (Nino Kasradze).

Once ensconced with the Armenians, Gio is offered yet another love interest, a Russian photojournalist (Daria Drozdovskaya) who denies being part of her country's imperialist past since she's Jewish.

Script and Doborjnidze's opaque perf make it hard to grasp why he's so diffident toward the woman, or anyone else, and helmer moves into macho posturing as grittily shot tale goes on, with Rambo-like antics --- albeit possibly satirical --- obscuring the character development and the subtext about relationships between various ethnic groups.

Electro jazzy score helps lift the mood and fits loosely with Gogliko's funny Miles Davis fixation, but it also adds extra cheese factor to "Trip" that already smells a bit overripe toward the end.

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