Beginning (დასაწყისი) (2020)

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Note to self – if they liken a film to the work of Michael Haneke, you are probably not going to love it. Georgian director Dea Kulumbegashvili’s first feature borrows heavily from Haneke’s handbook, with extended scenes of our protagonist lying on the ground pretending to be dead or sitting in a chair.

It starts out well, with a meeting in a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in rural Georgia. We watch the small intricacies of a culture unfold; Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili) shepherds the children into obedience and her husband David (Rati Oneli) starts a sermon on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his faith in God. JWs are a minority in predominantly Orthodox Christian Georgia and their lack of place is suddenly apparent with an act of violence from outside their community. It is the first moment of dramatic tension and the visual beauty of each scene promises an interesting trajectory.

From here on, we are caught in the uncomfortable and slow rigidity of the frame as we watch Yana’s well-being slowly unravel. She is unhappy but can’t explain why, she is over-protective of her son Giorgi (Saba Gogichaishvili) but is unable to engage with him. David goes away and her only distraction from days where she seems to sleepwalk through her life is to prepare the children of the community for baptism by drilling them on the tenets of their faith. What is heaven. What is hell. What is sin. She seems depressed and it’s not hard to see how she might have agreed to a life of piety and servitude that no longer fulfils her.

I kept waiting for something else to happen and, when it did, I regretted my wish. Without any content warning, we watch an extended scene with an immobile camera as Yana is brutally assaulted and raped. I am still struggling to understand why this was played on camera rather than off and was even more surprised to find out that the director identifies as female. I persisted with the film, hoping that there would be some redeeming significance to the scene but it still feels like a plot point designed to shock rather than make a difference to the pandemic of violence against women.

Like with a Haneke film, there is no clear purpose to the narrative. Although Yana has a lot of screen time and we can clearly see that she is traumatised, we don’t really understand her or David or Giorgi. Her actions all the way through are obtuse and the two final scenes are confounding. It’s possible that Yana is an allegorical figure and fundamental Christianity or religion is being critiqued as the way David responds to the rape by blaming her echoes across patriarchy and many religions. By the end, though, I was a bit over it and it’s abstruse meanderings.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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