Julie Bertuccelli's first feature is suffused with indelible humanist values and emotions. The touching story of three generations of Georgian women coping with tragedy and loss, the film is effectively made; it also is superbly acted and, at its center, has a long-suffering matriarch much like the ones who appeared in John Ford films.

Julie Bertuccelli’s very beautiful first feature is suffused with indelible humanist values and emotions. The extremely touching story of three generations of Georgian women coping with tragedy and loss, the film is traditionally and effectively made; it also is superbly acted and, at its center, has the character of a devoted, long-suffering mother, a matriarch much like the ones who appeared in many John Ford films. Without any real names attached, theatrical box-office outside some Euro territories will be tricky, but fests should grab this one, and quality-TV programmers should also embrace the film.

In the decaying Georgian capital, Tbilisi, three women live in the same apartment. Elderly Eka (Esther Gorintin), stooped and crippled with arthritis, is in frail health but remains an imposing figure. Her daughter Marina (Nino Khomassouridze) seems to have had a difficult life (as indicated by a photograph of her as a young girl with a gun to her head); political and personal upheavals have taken their toll.

Marina’s daughter Ada (Dinara Droukarova) is an attractive student who represents the future. Yet she is clearly constrained by life in Georgia, where power outages and water shortages impact on everyday living, and where she has no privacy (she shares a bed with her mother at night). She has a boyfriend with whom she has occasional sex in his car, but she remains frustrated and unfulfilled.

The hopes of these three women are very much in the hands of Otar, Eka’s son, who has been living and working in Paris. Otar writes regularly, sending a little money, and he telephones occasionally. The old lady lives for these brief contacts with her beloved son.

While Eka is staying with a friend in the countryside, Marina and Ada hear some terrible news; there has been an accident, and Otar is dead. They feel they cannot tell Eka, who is in frail health. So, when she returns home, they say nothing and Ada begins to compose letters supposedly written by Otar to his mother.

The deception almost unravels when a friend of Otar’s arrives, but the younger women manage to maintain the lie. However, Eka yearns to see her son again and insists that the three of them travel to Paris for a reunion.

“Since Otar Left” has the great advantage of a very well-written and constructed screenplay and a trio of sublime performances.

Actress Khomassouridze confidently carries out the difficult task of suggesting a middle-aged woman’s unfulfilled past and the gloomy future she faces. Russian thesp Droukarova is equally good as the youthful Ada, an intelligent and well-educated girl who obviously feels constrained by her life in Tbilisi but who adores her grandmother.

Best of all is 90-year-old Polish-born Gorintin, whose Eka is a sublime creation. Feisty and tenacious, she doesn’t allow old age to constrain her in the least. Though politically conservative (she’s still a fan of Stalin who, despite his crimes, at least made the country function properly, she asserts), she has great depths of reserves, and the scenes in Paris in which she searches for her son are highly charged emotionally, thanks to the extremely subtle playing of the actress.

Pic is directed with deceptive simplicity, as befits the subject matter, with excellent use made of Tbilisi and Paris locations. Few will be unmoved by this universally applicable tale of love and loss.

Since Otar Left

Critics Week / France-Belgium

Production

A Haut et Court (France) release of a Les Films du Poisson (Paris)/Entre Chien et Loup (Brussels) co-production, in association with ARTE France Cinema, Studio 99, with the participation of Canal +. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Yael Fogiel. Co-producer, Diana Elbaum. Directed by Julie Bertuccelli. Screenplay, Bertuccelli, Bernard Renucci, Roger Bohbot.

Crew

Camera (color), Christophe Pollock; editor, Emmanuelle Castro; production designer, Emmanuel de Chauvigny; costume designer, Nathalie Raoul; sound (Dolby Digital SRD), Thomas Gauder; line producer, Jana Sardlichvili; associate producer, Laetitia Gonzalez; assistant director, Gabriele Roux; casting, Stephane Batut. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics Week), May 20, 2003. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Eka - Esther Gorintin Marina - Nino Khomassouridze Ada - Dinara Droukarova Tenguiz - Temour Kalandadze Roussiko - Roussoudan Bolkvadze Alexi - Sacha Sarichvili Niko - Douta Skhirtladze (Georgian and French dialogue)
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