The simple life turns out to be rather complicated for travelers visiting a remote Georgian hamlet in “The Village.” Veteran Levan Tutberidze’s latest feature is a flavorful slow-burner in which an Englishwoman’s naivete about local customs and politics while staying with her boyfriend’s relatives proves seriously misguided. Leisurely but always compelling, this handsome drama merits extensive festival travel, though its offshore commercial prospects are modest.
Their SUV barely making it past a mud pit, crimson-haired Londoner Amy (Crystal Bennet) and beau Nika (Tornike Bziava) arrive at the home of his uncle Guram (Mikheil Gomiashvili), a village leader who keeps them largely innocent of the problems he’s dealing with: Notably, armed soldiers are pursuing a notorious outlaw whom they believe the village has sheltered. Indeed, Guram has been protecting elusive, horse-riding vagabond Satara (Vakhtang Chachanidze), however reluctantly.
Seemingly incapable of grasping that her progressive values might register as offensive here, Amy bridles at being introduced as Nika’s “wife” — indeed, they’ve come here in hopes of repairing a shaky relationship well short of marital commitment. A photographer, she snaps shots of locals without much thought as to their ease at being snapped, particularly when it comes to dashing, mute “widow’s son” Kopale (Tornike Gogrichiani), a shunned figure who frequently surfaces out of the blue like some moody Caucasus Heathcliff — but his intentions may be more sinister than passionate.
There’s a certain amount of confusion between this romantic figure, Satara and a mythical local folk hero — perhaps deliberate, but eventually confounding nonetheless. Nonetheless, “The Village” is a fond and intimate portrait of rural life bound by centuries-old traditions, whose balance our well-intentioned heroine unthinkingly upsets. While life may appear charmingly pastoral here, Guram’s spouse, Ana (Eka Molodinashvili), gets closer to the truth by saying “This is a village. It’s a different universe. We’re all under a microscope.” While there’s arguably not quite enough payoff to Tutberidze’s low-key progress, “The Village” still impresses with its artful balance of poetical and melodramatic elements.
Performances are assured, tech/design contributions headlined by George Shvelidze’s frequently gorgeous widescreen landscape photography, and a soundtrack dominated by impressive a cappella folk music.