You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Keep Smiling

Black comedy collides with overwrought melodrama in this patchy but interesting Tbilisi-set drama.

With: Iamze Sukhitashvili, Gia Roinishvili, Olga Babluani, Tamuna Bukhnikashvili, Nana Shonia, Shorena Begashvili, Maka Chichua, Lela Metreveli, Ia Ninidze, Eka Kartvelishvili, Beka Elbakidze, Tamar Bziava, Tornike Bziava, Avtandil Gogeshvili. (Georgian, Russian dialogue)

Black comedy collides with overwrought melodrama in the patchy but interesting Tbilisi-set drama “Keep Smiling.” Georgian writer-helmer Rusudan Chkonia’s feature debut tracks 10 disparate femmes, most of them in dire financial straits, competing in a beauty contest for moms to win a substantial prize. Chkonia lays on the indictment of reality-TV culture a bit thick, and the plotting is somewhat contrived, but she coaxes gutsy perfs from her game cast and explores a side of war-torn, contempo Georgia not often seen offshore. That freshness may put a smile on fest programmers’ faces after the pic’s Venice preem.

The film opens with the 10 costumed contestants onstage, dancing to the strains of Lou Bega’s “Baby Keep Smiling,” a tune heard again over the end credits and several times throughout, suggesting the production’s clearance-rights budget didn’t stretch far. The next scene shows everyone crowding into a backstage room to gasp at something unseen that horrifies them, suggesting things are going to end badly for someone.

The action then rolls back several weeks to show the women arriving at a TV studio, where they’re informed they made the cut to appear on a new show, “Georgian Mother.” Slimy series producer Otar (Gia Roinishvili) has set the women various challenges in order to win the crown and, more importantly, the prize:$25,000 and a four-bedroom apartment. They will be judged on how well they cook and have raised their children, their talent and their popularity with the judges and TV auds.

Only about half the women are properly drawn characters, and they’re just rough sketches at that. Former child violin prodigy Gvantsa (charismatic Iamze Sukhitashvili, “Garpastum”) is the defiant one, but also a neurotic mess. She just so happens to live next door to fellow contestant Inga (Nana Shonia), a zaftig widow who disapproves of Gvantsa’s promiscuity and slack parenting. Abkhazian refugee Elene (Olga Babluani) is perhaps the most in need, as she shares a room at a charity hospital with her husband and four kids, although likable Irina (Tamuna Bukhnikashvili) isn’t much better off, either. Wealthy trophy wife Baya (Shorena Begashvili) looks most likely to win, especially since her politician husband is one of the show’s sponsors.

As the weeks pass, the women bicker and then eventually bond, especially when rebellion brews after the show’s producers insist they must all parade themselves in bikinis. Helmer Chkonia clearly has no time for any kind of post-feminist guff that sees beauty contests as empowering; the whole thing is merely an exercise in prurience and humiliation that has to be endured, so the main driving force of the drama lies in seeing how low each of them will go to win, or whether they’ll find strength in numbers. In a way, it’s a bit like “The Hunger Games” with high heels and swimwear.

Editing briskly maintains forward momentum, and if the rest of the tech credits look painfully low-budget, that fits the schlock-TV setting. With a bit of script tweaking, the pic could easily be remade in other territories.

Popular on Variety

Keep Smiling


Production: A Nike Studio, Ex Nihilo production in association with Samsa Films, Alvy production, with the support of the Georgian National Film Center, Georgian Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection. (International sales: Doc & Film, Paris.) Produced by Rusudan Chkonia, Nicolas Blanc. Executive producers, Vladimir Kacharaya. Co-producers, Marc Bordure, Jani Thiltges, Arnaud Bertrand, Dominique Boutonnat, Hubert Caillard. Directed, written by Rusudan Chkonia.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Konstantine Mindia Esadze; editors, Chkonia, Jean-Pierre Bloc, Levan Kukhashvili; art directors, Sopo Baghadze, Mamuka Esadze, Dima Arsanis, Giga Iakobashvili; costume designer, George Nadiradze; sound (Dolby Digital), Paata Godziashvili; re-recording mixer, Nika Paniashvili; casting, Leli Miminoshvili. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Venice Days), Sept. 1, 2012. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Iamze Sukhitashvili, Gia Roinishvili, Olga Babluani, Tamuna Bukhnikashvili, Nana Shonia, Shorena Begashvili, Maka Chichua, Lela Metreveli, Ia Ninidze, Eka Kartvelishvili, Beka Elbakidze, Tamar Bziava, Tornike Bziava, Avtandil Gogeshvili. (Georgian, Russian dialogue)

More Film

  • Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

    'Ad Astra' Lifts Above Competition at International Box Office With $26 Million

    Though “Ad Astra” was overthrown by the Crawley family at the domestic box office, Brad Pitt’s astronaut drama reigned supreme at the international box office. Directed by James Gray, “Ad Astra” launched overseas with $26 million from 44 foreign markets. The $80 million sci-fi epic debuted in North America with $19.2 million, bringing global box [...]

  • hugh jackman tiff bad education

    Toronto's Biggest Deal Goes to HBO: A Sign of the Future? (Column)

    When it comes to how we’ll be watching movies — or, at least, watching serious dramas for adults — in the future, here are two stark and timely contradictory facts: 1. Last week, as the Toronto International Film Festival drew to a close, a deal that had been in the rumor stage for a while [...]

  • 'Talking About Trees' Helmer Suhaib Gasmelbari

    'Talking About Trees' Director Suhaib Gasmelbari Receives Variety MENA Award

    Suhaib Gasmelbari, whose Sudanese documentary “Talking About Trees” premiered in the Berlinale’s Panorama section, received the Variety Middle East and North Africa Region Talent Award Saturday at the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt from festival director Intishal Al Timimi. Variety critic Jay Weissberg, who selected the honoree, said that it is not usual that [...]

  • Josefina-Molina

    Josefina Molina: Still Battling After All These Years

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — She isn’t done yet. The battling character of Josefina Molina, winner of Spain’s 2019 National Cinematography Prize, was glimpsed in her acceptance speech at the San Sebastian Festival on Saturday. She used part to thank those who had given crucial help, such as, among women, editors Nieves Martin (1981’s “Función de Noche,” [...]

  • Suro

    Lastor, ‘The Endless Trench’s’ Irusoin, Malmo Team for Mikel Gurrea’s ‘Suro’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Barcelona-based Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures have teamed with San Sebastian’s Irusoin to produce “Suro” (The Cork), the feature debut of Mikel Gurrea and a product of San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak program. The film stars Laia Costa, who broke through with Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” and also serves as executive producer, and Pol López [...]

  • Ane

    Madrid’s ECAM Incubator Develops Terrorism Drama 'Ane'

    SAN SEBASTIAN — For the second year in a row, the ECAM Madrid Film School has paired a number of up-and-coming filmmakers with various industry veterans for an Incubator program part of the school broader development arm called The Screen. For its initial edition in 2018, this Incubator selected five feature projects, putting the selected [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content