Bright sunlight shines in the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So that David, the elder of the congregation, can give his slide show, his listeners lower the blinds. He tells of Abraham and his trust in God, which almost led him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. The door opens and an incendiary bomb flies into the darkness. Calls for help, chaos, crowds. In this religious community there is only light or shadow, life or death, heaven or hell.
Georgian filmmaker Dea Kulumbegashvili opens her film “Beginning” with a thoughtful bang. Cautious because this scene seems almost sedate despite its drama. The camera captures the events from a distant observer position for almost nine minutes. From the very back of the room she has an overview and can only superficially document what is happening here. The almost square image format reinforces the impression that not everything is visible here. As if by a miracle, nobody is injured, only the community hall burns to the ground. However, the attack hardly made waves, because here in rural Georgia the religious community is hostile and marginalized. The police therefore advise David to delete the recordings from the surveillance cameras.
If the film were a crime drama in which David demands justice for his community, the case would soon be resolved despite all the adversities. But the incendiary not only suddenly brightened up the darkness of the lecture, it also started a smoldering fire in the center of the community: with David’s wife Yana. “Something is wrong with me,” she said shortly after the attack, “it’s as if I’m waiting for something to finally start. Or stop.” She has long struggled with the strict belief that she adopted for her husband’s sake, and is stuck between servile self-abandonment and her dream of a career of her own. David has little understanding and tells her to behave like a normal person. She cancels a journey together, a first act of rebellion. She stays at home with their son Giorgi.
What is out of sight is seldom as claustrophobic as it is here
The house, oversized and yet sparsely furnished, is both a place of retreat and a prison for them. Kulumbegashvili and her cameraman Arseni Khachaturan consistently continue the imagery of the entrance scene. Static shots, slow pans that follow Yana like surveillance cameras. Often she is alone in the picture, locked up and locked in her own home. What is out of sight is seldom as claustrophobic as it is here. This threat breaks out in the form of a stranger. He pretends to be the police officer entrusted with the attack and does physical and psychological violence to her. Yana herself reads violence as punishment, David will consider her an ungrateful adulteress.
Kulumbegashvili never completely declines this conflict. In an almost eternal, completely static shot, she lies in the forest, her head bedded on grass and leaves, chirping birds. She plays dead, even when her son shakes her shoulder in vain. She lies there for seven minutes with her eyes closed. In this total standstill, the noises of nature also move away and an inner noise swells and bubbles. Or is it a rumble? Here in the twilight of the forest, both are possible and one wishes Yana that a new voice grows in her.
With this debut, Dea Kulumbegashvili won four prizes at the San Sebastián Film Festival last year and immediately became a Georgian Oscar hope. Your patience with the passing of time is impressive. “Life goes on as if I weren’t there.” Yana says to David once. Only when it is outside in nature can it briefly forget its diffuse oppressive burden. Outside, that always means a short escape from the power and dominance of men – their father, their husband, the stranger. Then she is completely with herself for a moment before her implosion continues, in uncomfortable slow motion that has something strangely unpredictable about it.
Dasatskisi, Georgia 2020 – Director: Dea Kulumbegashvili. Book: Dea Kulumbegashvili, Rati Oneli. Camera: Arseni Khachaturan. With: Ia Sukhitashvili, Rati Oneli, Kakha Kintsurashvili, Saba Gogichaishvili. Mubi, 125 minutes.