Vedreba (The Entreaty/Mol’ba, Georgia, 1967), Tengiz Abuladze

July 25, 2008 at 4:32 am

Based on the work of Georgia’s national poet Vazha Pshavella (1961-1915), Vedreba is a loosely structured visual poem that follows the plots of Pshavella’s epics and talks about pride, honor, revenge, and mourning. Set amidst the mighty swipe of the Caucasus mountains and making full use of the inconceivable natural imagery of geological forms and unusual architecture, of strong facial features and costumes, of sounds and winds, this is a truly memorable cinema of image creation.

Watching the film I felt I was missing a vast array cultural references that could have helped a better understanding (the same feeling of cultural inadequacy one experiences when watching films like Sergo Parajanov’s Color of Pomegranates). Evidently, the people in the film were Muslim, whereas I know Georgia as a Christian stronghold, so I cannot say to what specific part of this truly multicultural land the setting referred to. Many other details remained out of grasp, but this only enhanced the attraction to the powerful imagery.

The most important realization that came to me in the course of watching this film is that this type of highly artistic cinema seems to be more or less exclusive to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It is possible to point at singular Western films that have undoubtedly had influence over the development of the style (like Bergman’s 1957 Seventh Seal, for example). However, there is no movement and no strand of filmmaking in Western Europe that could be identified as corresponding to the phenomenon that is almost entirely restricted to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Because, it is important to understand, that making this type of films here was not a matter of singular breakthroughs of individual visionaries like Tarkovsky and Parajanov. There is an array of other directors, whose names are little known today beyond the borders of their own countries, who created similarly powerful visual poetry. One would need to uncover the works of these people and reconsider it in a context that would show that they really worked in creative dialog with each other.

Over the years, due to the isolation of the Cold War period and the turbulent changes in the years that followed it, many of the films that belong to the corpus of poetic cinema’s strand have fallen through the cracks of international distribution and remain unknown. Checking them out one by one at the IMDb leads to the realization that they are almost non-existent in the public mind today. I am talking of remarkable films such as Yuri Ilyenko’s A Spring for the Thirsty (1965) from the Ukraine, Binka Zhelyazkova’s Attached Balloon (1967) from Bulgaria, or Zdravko Velmirovich’s Dervish and Death (1971), all based on important literary sources from their respective countries. I do not know how to explain why it is that at least cinema historians from these countries have not bothered to make more information available. And why it is that so many years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, films from Georgia, Ukraine or Kazakhstan are still listed on the IMDb solely with their Russian titles (and not with the ones in the original language they were made), and as films in the Russian language (which is not really the case). Aren’ t there people in these newly emancipated countries (scholars, critics, film bureaucrats) that would take up the project of making at least some information of their cinematic heritage available to the world via this most frequently accessed source?

I obtained the Vedreba DVD at a seedy shop in Hong Kong, located on the ground floor of the infamous Star Arcade, but was nicely surprised to see that it is also listed on Amazon (even if difficult to find). The DVD is a RUSCICO release, the company that makes former Soviet films available internationally (I wonder how they cover for the copyrights of those creative personnel who are no longer part of Russia; in this case we are talking of a Georgian film, made almost entirely by Georgian contributors within Georgia). The film is featured both in its Georgian and Russian version, and has subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Italian.

© Dina Iordanova
24 July 2008