April 2021, arsenal cinema

arsenal 3 in April: Otar Iosseliani

[Translate to english:] CHANTRAPAS, 2010

"What you give is yours, what you keep is lost," goes one Georgian proverb. "Everything that happens in my films has to do with people's weakness for possession," says Otar Iosseliani. "And this leads to real values such as feelings disappearing." One could add that all of the director's films are about the disappearance of culture, sensuality, altruism and solidarity. They are poetic tragicomedies which feature a keen sense of humor, a slight wistfulness, reduced dialogue and flowing imagery. Born in 1934 in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Otar Iosseliani studied music and math before taking a directing course in 1955 with Alexander Dovzhenko at the VGIK Film School in Moscow. His graduation film APRILI (1962), a critical examination of the petty bourgeois aspirations to possess, was banned in the Soviet Union. Like many of his later films, APRILI does not have extensive dialogue or commentary. Iosseliani is of the opinion that words should not be determining factors and should not hold any important information. In his works, the essential is revealed by facial expressions, gestures and the way the protagonists hold themselves. Words are equal to music and other noises on the soundtrack. After making three feature-length films between 1966 and 1975, Iosseliani was no longer given the opportunity to work in the Soviet Union and emigrated to France in 1982. Iosseliani has since made a dozen films, in Senegal, Italy, France and Georgia, which he all considers Georgian films. They talk about the poor and the rich, urban life and the country, traditions, the loss of values and the passing of time. They are at once melancholy and cheerful because "when things are taken very seriously it is hard to talk about them seriously (O.I.). Arsenal – Institute for Film und Video Art is the German distributor for Otar Iosseliani’s complete collection of work. In April, we will show a selection of seven feature-length films on arsenal 3, from his full-length debut GIORGOBISTVE (Falling Leaves, 1966) to his last film for the time being, CHANT D’HIVER (Winter Song, 2015).

As part of the showcase on arsenal 3, an online discussion will be held with Ulrich Gregor and Barbara Wurm at 6 p.m. on April 13, on our Youtube channel.

GIORGOBISTVE (Falling Leaves, USSR 1966, 91 min) Niko has just finished school and lives with his two younger sisters, their mother and grandmother in Tbilisi. When he starts working in a wine cooperative he is confronted in an unpleasant manner with the world of adults: To fulfill the plan, wine of poor quality is bottled but Niko soon realizes he is the only one against this practice. He is also disillusioned by his first love – his colleague Marina is amused by his "naivety". Iosseliani's feature debut is not only a film about becoming an adult but a hymn to those who affirm themselves in a world of adaptation and pragmatism and do not allow themselves to be corrupted.

IKO SHASHVI MGALOBELI (Once Upon a Time There Was a Singing Blackbird, USSR 1970, 80 min) Iosseliani’s second feature film depicts 36 hours in the life of the young musician Gia, who plays the drums in the Tbilisi orchestra, and is defined as much by his friendliness as his frequent lateness. He seems to be more interested in spontaneous human contact than work. He is a dreamer who refuses to adapt and seems incapable of finding a relation to time that tallies with his environment.

PASTORALI (Pastorale, USSR 1975, 95 min) A quartet from the city spends a summer in a village. A family rents out an attic room to them and the children are drawn to the musicians. Iosseliani tells this story without lifting the pretense of the narration, multiplies it and brings in all kinds of new beginnings of other stories. "A film of dreamily beautiful black & white faces and the sounds of folk instruments, with animal sounds instead of dialogue, and patient, almost silent sequences of characters going after their daily chores rather than any driving plot-line." (Ilya Grigorev)

LES FAVORIS DE LA LUNE (Favorites of the Moon, F/I/USSR 1984) "It is impossible to recount this film because of all the parallel stories that get out of hand, but it is about bartering things, the carousel of love affairs, the exchange of feelings. In Paris's 13th arrondissement, which on the surface appears so straightforward, Iosseliani depicts the hectic activity of those subjected to the laws of exchange and delivers a hilarious comedy. His 40 odd protagonists do not have names but they are clearly characterized in their behavior, forming a microcosm of society. The fact that the thieves survive is not surprising in a world that lives from theft without wanting to acknowledge it. Whereas the citizens are driven out and their being together is shown in fast motion only as a seemingly nonsensical abstract movement, the thieves are hedonists having the time of their life." (Eva Hohenberger)

ADIEU, PLANCHER DES VACHES! (Farewell, Home Sweet Home, F / I / CH 1999, 115 min) Nicolas is 19 and trying to escape the golden cage of his rich family. He sneaks away from his glamorous country home to meet tramps and young petty criminals in Paris. He falls in love with Paulette, the daughter of a bistro owner, but she is more interested in Gaston who seems more promising from a social point of view. "The film announces itself as a parable of the feeling of dissatisfaction that inhabits us. Practically as soon as we are born we are forced to live in a shell and to find another space, another dimension of life which surely exists somewhere. If one is rich, one thinks the poor are happy, without a care and surrounded by real friends. If one is poor, one imagines the life of the rich as wonderful." (Otar Iosseliani)

CHANTRAPAS (F / Georgia 2010, 122 min) Nicolas is a headstrong Georgian filmmaker who is a thorn in the side of the Soviet authorities. He only wants to have the freedom to express himself but the party bureaucrats refuse to approve his films because they do not follow the rules. Nicolas immigrates to France – where he soon confronts other difficulties. Otar Iosseliani's most autobiographical work is a fictional story about a Georgian director which treats the subjects of exile and artistic freedom as well as the conflict of interests between the author and the film industry.

CHANT D’HIVER (Winter Song, F/Georgia 2015, 117 min) In his most recent film, Otar Iosseliani tells a story that revolves around the French Revolution and the closing of refugee camps in contemporary Europe, down-and-outs and weapons dealers in Paris, war and friendship, and how all these things fits together, narrated in his inimitable style, at once nimble and melancholy. CHANT D'HIVER is a powerful late work of impressive freshness and considerable aesthetic freedom, in which director and actor Pierre Étaix (1928–2016) makes his final screen appearance.

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