I first hear of this movie when I was putting together a selection of movie trailers for the first annual Downingtown Film Club Night at the Oscars back in February. We covered all the films in the categories of best film, director, actor, actress, animated and foreign. This movie was nominated for best foreign pick, but ultimately lost to the Polish film “Ida.”
I was actually able to watch the first 15 minutes or so of the movie on youtube, but didn’t continue watching because of the subtitles. The movie is in Estonian, Chechen and Georgian, and unfortunately the subtitles for the film that was put up on youtube were in I believe Georgian which is a very unusual language and one I had no chance of deciphering. Some movies lend themselves well to being understood without having to understand the language itself, but this is a pretty heavily dialogue based movie so this would probably not have worked to well.
The movie takes place in a virtually abandoned Estonian village located in Abkhazia, an obscure little country in Eastern Europe that is not officially recognized by the UN and claimed territory of Georgia. It should also be noted that Estonia is almost 2000 miles away from Abkhazia, but for some reason there had been significant settlement in the region some 100 years before. The region was given some international prominence back in the summer of 2008 when the arguments over the legal sovereignty of the nation turned into a war, this is when the movie takes place.
During the war most Estonians left Abkhazia, but in the movie there are two left in the village, the reason why remains unexplained until the end of the movie. A pair of Chechen soldiers come by the main character Ivo, question what he is doing in the area and ask for food to take with them. The old man is friendly enough and the exchange between the three seems tense but also friendly. Something requiring very skilled actors to pull off.
Just after leaving the Chechen Soldiers are ambushed by a group of four Georgian soldiers who are all killed by a bazooka blast. One Chechen is killed while the other is wounded, and is brought back to the old man Ivo’s house. Here he is nursed back to health. Then while burying the Georgians one of them movies. They bring the Georgian back to the house as well.
This leads to the main impetus of the story, all of which can be inferred from seeing the trailer, so I did not spoil anything for you.
As I said the film was nominated for best foreign film, but if you ask me it should have been nominated for, best original score, best original screenplay and best cinematography as well, and sure why not, even best picture altogether. I’m not saying it should have won all those categories, but it should have at least gotten mentioned. It is a beautiful anti-war movie, that despite being about a very specific Eastern European conflict, is just as applicable to just about any other war. The movie is heavy of course, but it’s actually not quite as heavy as you might expect. The movie is highly dialogue based but the sentences tend to be simple enough to follow easily. It has the feel of a play and seems like it could be very easily adapted as one, if they show it near me I might actually go see it.
I highly recommend this film to just about anyone; I see no downside to it.