alr

Eliso

Live Musical Accompaniment by Robert Humphreville
Screening on Film
Directed by Nikoloz Shengelaia.
With Aleksandre Imedashvili, Kokhta Karalashvili, Kira Andronikashvili.
Soviet Georgia, 1928, 35mm, black & white, silent, 90 min.
French and English intertitles.
Print source: HFA

Verdi, a mountaintop Chechen village in Georgia, is situated so high that, to see clouds, its inhabitants as often look down as they look up. The year is 1864; a local branch of the Russian military administration decides to depopulate the Verdi village in order to provide housing for the Cossack troops serving as the Imperial border patrol. To have this done, the Russians need to deport the Chechens across the nearby border with the Ottoman Empire. A story of deceit and betrayal, violence and resistance, passion and duty, Eliso is a pure tragedy, as sublime and pristine as only tragedy, all the way back to the Greek antiquity, can be. The tragic plays out on a number of levels: from a Romeo-and-Juliet pair of lovers, divided by faith (Vajia is Christian, Eliso Muslim), to what we might call today a genocidal exile of a community coerced out of their homes. As a film, Eliso is a gem. Director Nikoloz Shengelaia, who also co-wrote the script, was a poet before he was a filmmaker; to say that it shows would be an understatement, be it in grandiose-yet-lyrical mass mis-en-scènes or in serene cinematography set almost exclusively in natural light. An unusual combination of things like virtuoso fencing and virtuoso cutting, the film contains sequences virtually impossible to forget. At the lowest point of moral—and the peak of physical—exertion, the village Elder, counterintuitively, commands his people to dance, and, miraculously, it works: in the final shot, whose composition is so impeccable you almost want to freeze a frame and pin it to your wall, the villagers are back on foot, and soldier on.

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