Letters to Max (2015)

September 28th, 2015
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Eric Baudelaire | Documentary | France 2014 | 103 min.

When filmmaker Eric Baudelaire (The Ugly One), wrote to the ex-foreign minister of the Republic of Abkhazia, Maxim Gvinja, he did not expect any reply. But this documentary is not only proof that Abkhazia exists, but also offers insight into the national identity of a mini-state.

LETTERS TO MAX would have been a successful medium length film; after all, not many people in this country know much about Abkhazia. But once again, its length minimises the impact: after all, there is not that much to say and Max’s ramblings about his self-invented philosophy get more and more tedious. The haphazard structure would have equally worked much better for a much shorter film. Overall, less would have been very much more.

It emerges that Abkhazia is a country of around 240 000 inhabitants, once part of Georgia, it is situated at the eastern coast of the Black Sea. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Georgia gained independence, but some regions wanted their independence from the Georgia, among them Abkhazia. In the war of independence during 1992/3, the Republic of Abkhazia was established with the help of Russian troops. Many Georgians fled across the border.

The documentary is an essay on statehood, Eric asking in his letters “how it feels to be an Abkhazian”, whilst Max answers in sending him video material, which shows not only his country, but also Max in his different incarnations of a patriot. Since Max is very proud of being a citizen of his country – not surprisingly of an ex-minister – his images show Abkhazia in all his glory: the beautiful, wild landscape and the romantic villages are indeed a scenery to be proud of. But everywhere we find empty houses and Max talks about the exodus of the Georgians, for whom he sees no possibility of repatriation. This chapter is closed, and Max, who is open to discuss nearly everything in a self-critical way, is adamant on this point. Images from his time as foreign minister see him visiting Cuba and Venezuela, two countries who recognise the independent existence of this state, which many others see as a Russian satellite state. The overall impression is a certain gloominess; the mass exodus of Georgians can still be felt as a cloud laying heavily over the countryside. AS


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