book publishers were probably not amused by this portrayal suggesting they were
mostly a bunch of self-absorbed loons, who lolly-gagged around the office,
pretending they had read manuscripts they never touched. As a publishing
professional myself, I can safely say: “no comment.” Initially, the Soviet
authorities were what you might call “circumspect,” prohibiting director-co-writer
Eldar Shengelaia from attending the international film festivals that had
happily accepted it (despite his Party membership). Roughly thirty years later,
with a freer, more enlightened government now elected in Georgia, Shengelaia
will be in New York to present Blue
Mountains, or an Unbelievable Story when it screens as part of MoMA’s latest
film series, Discovering Georgian Cinema, Part 1: A Family Affair.
has just finished his next novel, Blue
Mountains or Tian Shan. Yes, it has two titles, like Melville’s Pierre: or the Ambiguities—a fact that
constantly vexes the Director of Soso’s publishing house, when he remembers it.
Soso will make the rounds, duly dropping off copies of the manuscript to staff throughout
the office, all of whom are delighted to have it and pledge to read it
immediately, including the Director.
Yet, each time Soso returns, he makes the same circuit through the
house, getting largely the same empty promises. Meanwhile, only the mining
engineer eternally waiting to pitch his collection of folk stories notices the
cracks in the ceiling growing at an alarming rate.
years have passed, but Blue Mountains is
as razor sharp as ever. It is a masterfully constructed satire, that repeats
large tracts of dialogue, but the implications become ever more absurd as the
seasons and circumstances change. Poor Soso does everything by the book (if you
will), yet he can never jump through enough bureaucratic hoops.
Blue Mountains does not address
politics per se, it is easy to see how an apparatchik could decide Shengelaia’s
ruthless send-up of bureaucracy, paperwork, and meetings was just bad for Party
business. Nevertheless, it eventually won several Soviet film awards
(presumably because they had to give them to something credible). Evidently, even
if you were a cultural commissar, the humor of Shengelaia and Rezo Cheishvili’s
screenplay was still quite potent stuff.
Soso, Ramaz Giorgobiani might be the greatest cinematic straight-man ever,
perfectly facilitating the comedic chaos, while serving as a sympathetic
audience surrogate. Gosh darn it, we would really like to see Blue Mountains or Tian Shan get published
in the end, but don’t get your hopes up. Likewise, Teimuraz Chirgadze deftly
modulates the Director’s madness, at times almost coming across reasonably,
given the bedlam erupting around him.
The subtitles are absolutely no hindrance to a wickedly
droll skewering of paper-pushery. In all truth, Blue Mountains is a masterwork of international cinema, bordering
on outright masterpiece status. Shengelaia is also a fascinating figure in his
own right, who had a long and tumultuous political career, leading up to his
support for the Rose Revolution. It is an altogether fitting selection for MoMA’s
Georgian retrospective and his presence at its initial screening there should
be considered a real event. Very highly recommended, Blue Mountains, or an Unbelievable Story screens this Wednesday
(9/24) and next Monday (9/29) at MoMA.
Labels: Eldar Shengelaia, Georgian Cinema, MoMA