When the Earth Seems to be Light (2015) **** Georgian Retro | DocLisboa 2020

October 30th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: David Meskhi, Salome Machaidze, Tamuna Karumidze; Documentary, Georgia 2015, 76 min.

A clash of cultures is the subject of this evocative Georgian film screening at Lisbon’s annual documentary festival DocLisboa. It seems nothing has  changed five years down the line. In fact most people say tribal warfare is on the increase – particularly in our capital cities –  as Covid19 continues to weaken the fabric of society, polarising black and white, left and right, even old and young. When The Earth Seems to be Light looks at how tough it is to be liberal-minded in Tbilisi today.

Prominent Georgian artist and filmmaker David Meshki has got together with a bunch of other creative types and his fellow directors Tamuna Karumidze and Salome Machaidze to explore the ways they all feel pushed to the margins of a society where there is apparently no middle ground between the glory days of communism, or the dog-eat-dog version of modern capitalism.

There are some extremely disturbing images, among them Orthodox priests leading a violent demonstration against the LGBT community. “Our tattoos are our dairies” says another “beatnik”. “You tattoo what you feel, what’s important for you at the moment”. They are existential in their approach, and would have more at home in the St. Germain of the 1950s. Yes, sometimes Molotov cocktails are thrown, but concrete is usually the target. Its all very volatile, with fireworks and computer noise exploding at the same time. The questions are the usual ones, about God, freedom and the meaning of it all. But the experience is deeply personal: some feel bullied because of their hair styles, apparently Georgians cannot except people who look different. The majority still hankers after a life under Soviet rule when outsiders were officially persecuted by the state. Ironic to see older people demonstrating, fighting the young ones. Somehow there is a huge capacity for mass violence – Stalin and Beria are not yet dead here in Tbilisi.

Earth has a unity of of aesthetics and contents. There is an eerie and airy quality to the images, and a no-nonsense approach to the questioning. Somehow it seems to be a clash between the Middle-Ages and a hoped for utopia: Georgia emerges a nation looking backwards with intolerance, the outsiders celebrate a life of hope and despair in equal parts. A well-paced and fine collective work that resonates even more so today. AS




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