Smiling Georgia (2023) Karlovy Vary 2023

July 4th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Luka Beradze; Documentary with Nana Papidze, Lamara Samkharadze, Nodar Labadze, Bezhan Labadze; Georgia/Germany 2020, 61 min.

In his pithy political expose Luka Beradse looks at how leaders lie and mislead voters just to stay in power.

The promise of subsidised dental care was the clincher for many, particularly seniors, in President Saakasvilli’s 2012 campaign spearheaded  by a promise to make “Georgia smile”. But the electorate laughed back in his face and the UNM (United National Movement) lost to the coalition of Georgian Dream (GD).

Smiling Georgia offers just one of many examples of political foul play that seems endemic nowadays all over the world. The ruling party’s policies appeared positive, well-intentioned and far-reaching with a focus on agriculture, employment and healthcare. Across the country, dentists had been having a field day removing rotten teeth – and even healthy ones – guaranteeing that state of the art dentures would be fitted shortly after the election. But in the end the older generation bore the brunt of the false promises and were left disgruntled and toothless to boot.  

Set between two elections, 2012 and 2020, Beradze’s sardonic social commentary shows how self-styled politicians have lost respect for the electorate and got carried away with their own importance. In the village of “No Name” the first round in 2012 ended with defeat for the ruling UNM President who subsequently fled the country and was arrested for corruption on his return from exile in 2021.

Ironically, the UNM had promised to provide a new set of gnashers for everyone in No Name and the surrounding villages. Alas, UNM lost and the hapless victims spent the next eight years regretting having trusted the powers-that-be, one man even carrying his wife’s used dentures around in a bag in a macabre act of defiance.

2020 saw a re-run of the dental promise strategy, this time with the GD promising to make the UNM’s empty promises a reality. But one of their candidates faired badly in front of the cameras she had hired to showcase her party’s virtues. It emerges that the GD candidate was a bully who had picked the only woman in the village fortunate enough to have her teeth. But the TV stint was a mismanaged fiasco and she ended up storming out of the interview in a huff. We don’t get to find out if she was successful in the 2020 November elections (law suits pending) but the party of the uninformed won the nationwide poll, with the UNM making barely ten percent of the votes.

An epilogue shows elderly farmers chuntering on about their feelings of disappointment in the elected party, while a pig scratches itself on a tree in the background. DoP Lomero Akhvlediani’s handheld camera is a busy witness to this tale of democratic disillusionment. Smiling Georgia maybe brief, at just over an hour, but Beradze puts so much verve and bitter-sweet humour into the free flowing narrative that the result far outweighs many other full-length features bolstered by repetitive footage and forced situational comedy just to make the 90 minute mark. AS


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