The IMDb does not list any DVD details, but a nicely produced DVD of this Georgian classic does exist with subtitles in several Western languages. I bought it from a stall at Hong Kong’s Star Computer Arcade, alongside the DVD of the other earlier Abuladze film on which I wrote here some months ago, Verdreba. I remember having seen the film first on its release in my teenage years; it had left a great feeling of cinematic poetic and a memory of fabulous colours. On this viewing, the memory of colours was confirmed, and the feeling of poetic superiority — to some extent as well.
Natvris Khe/Drevo zhelaniy/ Wishing Tree (Tengiz Abuladze, 1976) is based on the work of a Georgian classic, Georgi Leonidze, and the subtitle of the film is marked as ‘Pictures from the Life of a pre-Revolutionary Georgian village’ (in case one may think that the patriarchal mores depicted here could have continued existing after the socialist revolution). By its very nature, most of the film’s humour and stories remain best understood by Georgians, and thus, even though one can grasp some of its charm, it remains of a somewhat limited local appeal. While viewers like myself would probably be able to appreciate many of the jokes and gather that there should be even more endearing qualities to these village stories (as it becomes clear from reading the user’s postings on the IMDb), these are mostly of interest to people who are really familiar with the culture of the region. And as I am not one of them, I must admit that many of the episodes came across as straightforward self-exoticism to me, a quality that makes films from smaller cultures travel among international audiences but ultimately, in my view, operate on the principle of voluntary self-denigration. The humor is occasionally too specific to be appreciated by those who are not in the know.
There is, however, one story of universal appeal: the account of the tragic love between the young Marita and Gedya (reminiscent in many aspects to the love story between Ivan and Marichka in Sergo Paradjanov’s amazing Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors). As soon as Gedya hears that Marita is promised to someone else, he runs to fight the contender, and is killed in the squabble. Marita is promptly married, as planned, a stupefied numb bride who soon grows totally alienated from her husband (once again we see the image of the sad bride, prevalent in the cinema of the Balkans, Asia Minor, and the Caucasus).* It does not take long before, at the end of the film, Marita is forced to mount a mule (seated backwards) and then taken to her death, an act of local popular justice which is meant to punish her for ‘shaming’ the village. The inhabitants of the village are shown as good-hearted idiots for most part of the film, but now things have changed and they show a different violent and rough side in practicing their patriarchal justice. It is an exercise in destroying love and beauty, and ultimately, in the context of this film, an indictment of patriarchal society. Some dare objecting, but the community is stronger in naming the victim a villain, as it has been consolidating during all these long ‘pre-revolutionary’ years.
Sofiko Chiaureli, one of the greatest actresses of the region who is also known from her roles in Paradjanov’s Color of Pomegranate and Abuladze’s Repentance, appears here as Pupala, an aging bag lady of picturesque appearance, who keeps telling stories of her great romance with Shiola, a man who loved her so much that it was a matter of life and death. She would sit among a group of black clad village women and entertain them for hours, her exotic rags and heavily made up face in contrast with their austere appearance. In the course of the film Pupala, frequently an unwanted stranger, is revealed as a gentle soul who subtly combats the patriarchy and injustice that are shown to ultimately dominate the lives of local women.
Apparently, all films by Tengiz Abuladze (1924-1994) have had a huge influence and can be considered as stages in the development of Georgian cinema. His Monanieba/Pokayanie/Repentance(1984) was one of the most important films of the perestroika times, and probably the first film to make direct indictment of the totalitarianism of the Stalin/Beria era, a critique which soon thereafter was to become commonplace. Yet another classic of the director is Me, bebia, Iliko da Ilarioni/ Me, Grandma, Iliko and Ilarion (1962), a comedy based on Nodar Dumbadze’s work which again focuses on village life and the endearing aspects of patriarchy.
Ultimately, to me, the achievement of The Wishing Tree is that is represents an exquisit study in the use of colour. I would compare it to the more recent film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Gabbeh (1996), which is openly focused on studying colour and carries the name of the specific tapestry from the region. The mountainous landscapes, the blossom of flowers, the picturesque valleys and villages, and some of the scenes are as if taken directly from great masters like Pieter Breughel (a painter whose work Tarkovsky sought to recreate in Andrey Rublev) or like naivist painters from the region. Thirty-odd years after its original release, The Wishing Tree remains an amazingly beautiful film with its vivid colours and its ability to create mode through the tonality of the landscale.
* See my text “Balkan Wedding Revisited: Multiple Meanings of Filmed Nuptials.” October 1998. Working Papers Series of the Centre for Austrian Studies Available on-line:
© Dina Iordanova
28 March 2009
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