Film Review: ‘Moira’

Georgia’s Oscar selection is an engrossing if predictable drama that follows an upright guy trying to keep his family from falling apart.

Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Atmosphere is the strong suit of “Moira,” a handsomely shot brooder from Levan Tutberidze (“The Village”) about an upright guy just sprung from jail and trying to keep his family from falling apart. Set in an economically depressed stretch of the Georgian seafront, the pic excels at capturing the feeling of being trapped, both in the dead-end location infested with hoods, and within the bosom of the family. The script gets unnecessarily explanatory in places, especially since so much is conveyed via mood, but this is an engrossing if predictable drama that benefits from strong performances. Its selection as Georgia’s Oscar nominee should ensure a decent fest life.

After five years covering for neighborhood hooligans who were the real culprits, Mamuka (Paata Inauri) exits the cooler and returns to a family eager for him to lead. Dad Datiko (Zaza Magalashvili) is in a wheelchair following a stroke, Mom (Ketevan Tskhakaia) is in Greece earning money as a cabaret singer, and younger bro Shota (Giorgi Khurtsilava) really needs some guidance. For Mamuka, the most important thing is to make the family a functional unit again.

The first order of business is to earn a living. Shota works on a dilapidated fishing boat that’s about to be sold; Mamuka hits on the idea of getting a loan, buying the boat and working together with his brother. Unfortunately, the only way of borrowing money with no collateral is to ask Temo (Jano Izoria), a sleazeball connected with dangerous gangsters.

For a brief moment, things seem to be on track. Mamuka is able to buy out his mother’s contract and bring her back to Georgia, he and Shota have the boat, and just maybe life can be normal. But Mom misses her independent life in Greece, the boat isn’t earning money, and the parents of Shota’s g.f., Tina (Ani Bebia), say he’s not good enough for their daughter. Frustrated and in need of dough, Shota agrees to smuggle kidnapping victims for some thugs involved in the Abkhazia conflict. That briefly glimpsed happy horizon is fading fast.

Much of the pic’s success relies on vet Tutberidze’s ability to set the tone with characters and environment: The shabby house, the air of depression, the sea’s omnipresence all create a sense of melancholy that ensnares the protagonists in a fateful downward spiral. Tellingly, Mamuka rechristens his boat “Moira,” the goddess of fate; for him it’s a sign of rebirth, but seasoned viewers realize all too soon that it’s a bad omen.

In fact, there are too many obvious (and foolish) wrong moves that oversignal the inevitable tragedy to come. This, plus a tendency to explain too much with dialogue, prevents the film from achieving its potential, though there are elements to praise, especially the studied restraint with which Tutberidze treats the family dynamics. An especially well-handled scene of Datiko overhearing his wife in an adjoining room, happily speaking Greek on the phone with a friend, conveys all we need to do know about how their lives have drifted apart.

The cast is uniformly strong, with particular mention going to the darkly attractive Inauri for his nuanced interiority, and Tskhakaia for her ability to make an ultimately selfish figure also surprisingly sympathetic. Evocative lensing by Basque d.p. Gorka Gomez Andreu often maintains a discreet distance, ensuring the sea and its wide horizon serve as a taunting contrast to lives trapped by circumstance and foolishness.

Film Review: ‘Moira’

Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 23, 2015. Running time: <strong>95 MIN</strong>.

  • Production: (Georgia) A Cinetech Film production. Produced by Nikoloz Abramashvili, Levan Tutberidze.
  • Crew: Directed by Levan Tutberidze. Screenplay, Davit Pirtskhalava, Giorgi Kobalia, Tutberidze. Camera (color, widescreen), Gorka Gomez Andreu; editors, Levan Kukhashvili, Grigol Palavandishvili, Tutberidze; music, Nukri Abashidze; production designer, Temur Khmaladze; costume designer, Ana Kalatozishvili; sound (Dolby 5.1), Paata Godziashvili.
  • With: Paata Inauri, Giorgi Khurtsilava, Zaza Magalashvili, Ketevan Tskhakaia, Jano Izoria, Ani Bebia, David Khurcilava, Lili Khuriti, Irakli Sanaia, Bachi Lejava, Lasha Gurgenidze, Ramin Kilasonia, Giorgi Surmava. (Georgian, Greek dialogue)