You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘Hostages’

Georgia's thriving film scene gets a glossily accessible addition in Rezo Gigineishvili's thrillerish take on a real-life hijacking story.

Tina Dalakishvili, Irakli Kvirikadze, Giga Datiashvili, Giorgi Grdzelidze, George Tabidze, Giorgi Khurtsilava, Vakhtang Chachanidze, Ekaterine Kalatozishvili, Darejan Kharshiladze, Merab Ninidze. (Georgian, Russian dialogue.)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5207262/

If one of the most interesting developments in world cinema recently has been the emergence of a coherent and impressive national new wave in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Rezo Gigineishvili’s “Hostages” perhaps marks a kind of maturation point for the movement. It’s not that the film, a fictionalized retelling of a real-life 1980s hijacking in which seven young Georgians attempted to reroute an airplane to Turkey in order to defect to the West, is any stronger or more powerful than the foundational films of this regional revival, such as George Ovashvili’s “Corn Island,” Zaza Urushadze’s Oscar-nominated “Tangerines” and last year’s stunning Karlovy Vary-awarded “The House Of Others” from Rusudan Glurjidze. If anything, it is considerably more generic and anonymous than those titles, but that in itself is a kind of progress: “Hostages” marks the point at which Georgian cinema has gained in self-confidence to the degree that it can now set its sights on the mainstream, at least at home, with this polished recreation serving to repackage a painful incident from the country’s recent history as an effectively glossy thriller.

It is 1983 and a group of attractive young people, centered around actor Nika (Irakli Kvirikadze) and his fiancée Anna (Tina Dalakishvili) are splashing about in the shallows of the gray Black Sea on the country’s western coast. The mood of youthful exuberance is stalled by the appearance of some soldiers who tell them to get dressed. “Are you afraid we’ll try to swim to Turkey?” jokes one of their number — but as the subsequent scenes unfold we become gradually more aware of the truth spoken in that jest.

The circle of friends, mostly the children of relatively apolitical, financially comfortable, and cluelessly oblivious professional parents (people we’d call middle class if there were such thing as classes in the Soviet Union) engage in benignly subversive activities like going to church and swapping smuggled-in Beatles albums. But there is also among them the tendency to sudden silences and meaningful looks: something is in the offing.

We remain outside their conspiracy, however — a narrative decision that robs Gigineishvili and Nasha Bugadze’s script of the possibility for deep characterization or real connection to any of the participants. Their inchoate desire for the “freedom” represented by the west is therefore never explored enough to comprehend, whether to condemn their naïveté or exalt their bravery. This disconnect is reflected in the professional but slightly aloof filmmaking, especially DP Vladislav Opelyants’ smooth, disinterested camerawork, which comes into its own during one whirling, drunken dancing sequence at Nika and Anna’s wedding, and later during the tense, bloody, disastrous attempted hijacking, but elsewhere is detached and cool to the touch.

That remove is frustrating, as there is a meaty mystery here, but it doesn’t lie in how the haphazard plan went so tragically wrong — that is successfully and excitingly dramatized with an eye for suspenseful action beats that could see Gigineishvili courted by Hollywood. The mystery is in the why: and specifically in why, at the moment it’s clear beyond any doubt that their plan has no chance of success, several of the plotters elect to open fire. There is a world of motivational and moral significance contained in that moment, but we know so little of these people that it’s hard to reconcile their dreams of a freer life (especially when their relatively privileged lives at home in Tbilisi, however proscribed, seem several degrees away from intolerable) with the reality of bullets and blood and collateral casualties. Whatever sympathy we have for the characters threatens to evaporate when they’re not simply willing to die for their ideals, but willing to kill for them too.

It’s an impressive and well-made hijacking thriller, but it feels like an opportunity missed because where it counts, “Hostages” remains on the fence. It’s hesitant in outright condemning the hijackers — they are so young, and to modern Western eyes, or those of native Georgians who can remember Soviet rule, their desire for escape must be very understandable. But Gigineishvili also refuses to lay too much blame on their uncomprehending and horrified parents, or, most crucially, on the oppressive regime from which they were trying to escape, aside from a generalized, unsatisfying sense that oppression breeds rebellion, which can sometimes lead to an abrogation of moral principles. Without a more pointed thesis at its heart, although there can be little doubt that the film (and the real-life incident on which it was based), unfolds as a tragedy, the question remains: whose tragedy?

Berlin Film Review: 'Hostages'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 10th, 2017. Running time: 104 MIN. (Original title: "Mdzevlebi")

Production: (Georgia-Russia-Poland) A Nebo Film Company, 20 Steps Prods. production. (International sales: WestEnd Films, London). Producers: Mikhail Finogenov, Tamara Tatishvili.

Crew: Director: Rezo Gigineishvili. Screenplay: Nasha Bugadze, Gigineishvili. Camera (color): Vladislav Opelyants. Editors: Jaroslav Kaminski, Andrey Gamov.

With: Tina Dalakishvili, Irakli Kvirikadze, Giga Datiashvili, Giorgi Grdzelidze, George Tabidze, Giorgi Khurtsilava, Vakhtang Chachanidze, Ekaterine Kalatozishvili, Darejan Kharshiladze, Merab Ninidze. (Georgian, Russian dialogue.)

More Film

  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan in conversation at

    Shanghai: How Nuri Bilge Ceylan Sees the World so Differently

    At a masterclass on Thursday, Turkish film director Nuri Bilge Ceylan gave the initial impression of being an austere and unwilling participant. Wearing heavy glasses, keeping his coat on, and responding to questions rather than offering a class, his manner suggested that he was difficult. In China as the head of the Shanghai International Film [...]

  • SpiderMan Far From Home

    Hollywood Takes on Italy's Vacation-Heavy Summer Season With Blockbusters

    With upcoming movies such as “Toy Story 4,” “Men in Black: International” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” Hollywood studios are finally taking the plunge this year and slotting their blockbusters in Italian cinemas during the summer, a time when residents traditionally hit the beach en masse. For decades, the studios withheld their [...]

  • Easy Money

    Netflix Orders 'Snabba Cash' Series Based on Hit Movie Franchise from SF Studios

    Netflix has ordered a six-part original series based on the hit Swedish crime franchise “Snabba Cash” from SF Studios. Based on Jens Lapidus’s bestselling novels, the series is set in Stockholm’s gritty criminal underground ten years after the events depicted in the “Snabba Cash” (“Easy Money,” pictured) movie trilogy. The society has become even more [...]

  • The Kings Man

    Film News Roundup: Disney Sets 'The King's Man' Spy Comedy for February

    In today’s film news roundup, “The King’s Man” and “A Kid From Coney Island” get release dates, and “Barry” star Anthony Carrigan joins “Bill & Ted Face the Music.” RELEASE DATE Disney has set its Fox spy comedy prequel “The King’s Man” for release on Feb. 14, 2020. Disney made the announcement Wednesday at its [...]

  • Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light

    Shanghai Film Review: 'Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light'

    The bombastic English title might sound like it describes some comic book sci-fi epic, but in “Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light” our hero does not wear a cape but a weathered cap, and the light he guards is not an interstellar death ray but the flickering beam of a battered old movie projector. Prominent Kazakh [...]

  • Wanda Film's Zeng Maojun

    Shanghai: China's Once-Mighty Wanda Casts Itself in Role of Survivor

    The soundtrack for the introductory showreel at Wednesday evening’s Shanghai press event announcing Wanda Pictures’ annual line-up was aspirational and strangely defiant.  It began with Nina Simone crooning, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good,” and then continued with “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. “You [...]

  • 'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Fashioned 1980s'

    'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Put a Decadent Twist on Opulent ’80s Style

    Set against the backdrop of London’s early-1980s cultural renaissance, British auteur Joanna Hogg’s exquisitely sculpted and critically acclaimed “The Souvenir,” which A24 has been widening in platform release for the past month, follows film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her gradually destructive romance with the magnetic Anthony (Tom Burke). “We didn’t want a film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content