Brigands: Chapter VII

Vano Amiran Amiranasvili

Vano Amiran Amiranasvili

Spiridon Guio Tzintzadze

Sandro Dato Gogibeidasvili

Eka Nino Odzonikidze

Lia Keti Kapanadze

Viktor Aleksi Dzakeli

Kola Niko Kartsivadze

(Georgian, Russian and French dialogue)

Maverick Georgian auteur Otar Iosseliani’s latest is a characteristically spry, mournfully funny examination of the foibles of his fellow countrymen, structured around the simple message that nothing ever changes. At over two hours, pic is far too long and would greatly benefit from judicious trimming, but the boldness and humanity of the writer-director’s quirky vision still shine through. Fests will want to unspool this comic epic, but arthouse distribution will be iffy.

From the start of his career, when he regularly fell afoul of the Soviet authorities in Moscow who controlled Georgian cinema at the time, Iosseliani has been a controversial figure. His films give the impression of being formless although they are quite intricately constructed, and “Brigands” is no exception. The subtitle, “Chapter VII,” which is unexplained, isa typical Iosseliani joke, as is the film’s opening scene, which has a handful of stout men, presumably censors, settling down in a smoke-filled screening room to watch the movie. The projectionist unfortunately starts off with the last reel in which a youth opens fire with an automatic weapon on a bunch of people playing strip poker and the film has to start again (the opening title is then repeated.)

Action now takes place in medieval times in a small country much like Georgia , where King Vano sets off to fight a rival but first locks his Queen, Eka, in a chastity belt. But she has a spare key, and, when Vano triumphantly returns, he has her beheaded for her infidelity. This saga is intercut with scenes of a far more recent conflict, this time in a modern city, with Vano and other characters from the first story appearing in modern dress. Miraculously, Iosseliani manages to make amusing this kind of urban fighting, which involves civilians.

The film proceeds with the same actors appearing in similar roles at different periods in history, but with their basic attitudes unchanged. A long sequence deals with the Communist period (the Eka character turns up as a militant party member) and the physical torture of dissenters. Pic’s final scenes unfold among exiled Georgians living in Paris, allowing plenty of scope for the director’s savage irony.

Stunningly photographed by William Lubtchansky, “Brigands” is stylishly choreographed and often savagely witty. But Iosseliani has made the mistake of editing the film himself; the detached eye of a top cutter was sorely needed to shape the often brilliant, yet decidedly unwieldy, material.

Thesping is fine, with Amiran Amiranasvili outstanding as the medieval king who winds up as a refugee in Paris. Technical credits are excellent, with eye-popping production design and an attractive and stirring music score by Nicolas Zourabichvili.

Brigands: Chapter VII

(BRIGANDS: CHAPITRE VII)

Production: (FRENCH-RUSSIAN-ITALIAN-SWISS-GEORGIAN) A Pierre Grise Prods. (Paris)/Soyuzkinoservice (Moscow)/Bim Distribuzione (Rome)/Carac Film AG (Geneva) co-production, in association with Canal Plus, National Committee for Cinematography, Gosudarstevennyi Komitet Rossiskoi, Federachii Po Kimematografii, Kartuli Filmi, Petropol. Produced by Martine Marignac. Directed, written, edited by Otar Iosseliani. Camera (color), William Lubtchansky; music, Nicolas Zourabichvili; production design, Emmanuel De Chauvigny, Jean-Michael Simonet, Lena Zukova; costumes, Ludmila Gainceva, Cori D'Ambrogio; sound, Florian Eidenbenz; artistic collaboration, Nicolas Fournier, Rita Iosseliani; assistant director, Jacques Arhex. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 4, 1996. Running time: 129 MIN.

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