A 12-year-old Georgian boy embarks on a dangerous mission to find his father behind enemy lines in the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia in Georgian helmer George Ovashvili’s moving feature debut, “The Other Bank.” Showcasing impressive perfs from nonpro thesps, especially young Tedo Bekhauri as the lead, “Bank” wisely invests in unobtrusive naturalism and powerful but unsentimental storytelling that should ensure further fest play. That said, the pic doesn’t quite pack an emotive enough punch to woo (or wow) auds much beyond Georgian and Russian arthouses.
First met working a scam with fellow street urchin Tsupak (Galoba Gambaria), young Tedo (Tedo Bekhauri) is an essentially good-natured kid with one permanently crossed eye who doesn’t have a lot to look forward to in life. Made a refugee by the ’90s conflict in Abkhazia, Tedo has been living for some time with his mother in a seedy suburb of Tbilisi, where he’s fallen in with glue-sniffing kids his own age.
Neither Tedo nor his mom knows if Tedo’s father, who had to stay behind in Abkhazia, is even still alive. However, when Keto takes a policeman lover, Tedo decides to go find his dad.
The rest of the pic details his danger-fraught journey across the border. Because he can’t speak Abkhaz and risks death even by entering the republic, Tedo pretends to be deaf and dumb, which adds a few interesting narrative twists to his picaresque adventures. The tone grows increasingly menacing as the story advances, although the final act throws in an unexpected surprise.
Both in overall structure and in specific scenes (such as a dance in the forest), the pic self-consciously recalls Elem Klimov’s “Come and See” (1985). Although “The Other Bank” is admittedly nowhere near as galvanizing, it does offer some impressively wrought scenes that approximate the unique blend of surrealism and horror that distinguishes Klimov’s masterpiece: A tense sequence as Tedo crosses the border and an interlude in which two seemingly friendly car thieves who give Tedo a lift turn out to be much more sinister than expected.
Tech credits are pro.