I’ll call this a Georgian film, although it was made through collaboration by film companies from a range of countries. It is a slow, lyrical and quiet drama that unfolds at the pace of the seasons. The Inguri River runs between Georgia and the disputed territory of Abkhaz. Every year after it floods, small islands of fertile soil are formed and local farmers stake their claim and grow corn, until the next flood washes them away.
This story is about an old Abkhaz man and his pubescent granddaughter who build a rudimentary wooden house on such an island and plant a crop of corn. They rarely speak and we follow the rhythms of their days as they till and plant, catch and salt fish, cut wood and build a breakwater. When some damage is done to their crop by hunters, they sleep there at night. The only interactions with others are when boats pass carrying soldiers, Georgian from one side of the river, Russian and Abkhazi from the other. One morning they find an injured Georgian hidden in the corn and, wordlessly, they give him shelter.
There would not be more than twenty lines of dialogue in the film and these are mostly from the soldiers who visit, looking for the fugitive. We infer the dynamic between the man and the young girl, that they depend on each other, that she craves fun but knows not to ask for it, that life is hard and survival never assured. The Georgian/Abkhazi conflict is only hinted at and you can see that it means nothing to the girl but the man knows he must be wary.
What holds you is the beauty of the cinematography and the landscape, the beauty of the girl’s face, the feeling that you are there with them, in the sun and the wind and the rain, feeling the soil between your fingers and tasting the salt of the fish. Sometimes the acting seems self-conscious and there are a few overly styled moments that seem out of kilter with the naturalism of the film – the oversized moon, the sunlight moving across the girl’s face.
The film builds slowly to the penultimate scene where you suddenly realise how vulnerable these people are. It is a gripping scene but its conclusion and the last scene were a disappointment for me. They were too neat, too clumsily signalled earlier in the film, designed I suspect to underline a message that had already been much more subtly made.