Quietly enchanting, Levan Koguashvili’s “Blind Dates” carves out a wayward weeklong path for its Tblisi bachelor protagonist that leads not so much toward love so much as a lovely sense of warmth and generosity toward all. This poker-faced charmer doesn’t boast the kind of stylistic flash or easily encapsulated hook that would magnetize sales interest. But it certainly merits consideration from offshore arthouse distributors, and could parlay buzz picked up along the fest circuit (including a special jury prize at Abu Dhabi) into a reasonably high profile for such a willfully low-key movie.
Best friends since childhood, history teacher Sandro (Andro Sakhvarelidze) and former soccer player-turned-coach Iva (Archil Kikodze) teach at the same school, and both find themselves still single on the brink of 40. As a result, they’re having a blind double date with two ladies who have bussed in from the provinces, though only high-strung Lali (Marika Antadze) turns up, her absent friend (Sopho Shaqarishvili, who later has a striking scene with Kikodze) being under the weather. As Iva takes a powder, the remaining duo spend a most awkward brief while together, agreeing (rather bafflingly) to meet again the following weekend.
Sandro doesn’t mention this interlude to the parents (Kakhi Kavsadze, Marina Kartcivadze) he still lives with, despite the fact that they are forever bemoaning his lack of marital status. When he and Iva borrow their car to spend a weekend by the seaside, the folks insist on riding along to visit relatives. They’re infuriated further when the two younger men blow a chance to socialize with some eligible local women in order to idle away an afternoon with a met-by-chance pupil, Anna (Liza Jorjadze), and her mother, Manana (Ia Sukhitashvili). Manana is clearly interested in Sandro, and vice versa. The problem is Anna’s father, Tengo (Vakho Chachanidze), who’s currently in prison (not for the first time), but is getting out shortly.
To Manana’s mortification, a few days later, semi-accidental circumstances lead to Sandro driving the reunited couple back to the city from the penitentiary gates. Then Tengo — who hasn’t a clue about this new friend’s ties to his spouse — uses him as a driver while immediately getting back to the business of hustling not-so-legal deals. Fate’s serpentine path quickly alters the prospects of all principals, though finally it’s Sandro’s own noble if self-sacrificing decisions that have the greatest, invariably positive influence. “You are a good man,” Manana tells him at the end, and rarely have those words carried such touching weight.
The unpredictable narrative deftly juggles a mix of rueful humor and genuine sweetness, with pitch-perfect performances and unfussily naturalistic yet artful staging. The result is a slow-burning delight that leaves a soulful afterglow. Packaging is modest but spot-on; rather than an original score, the pic uses pre-existing tracks to droll effect.