Jacques Tati is one of Iosseliani's influences (as he freely admits), and many quirky Tatiesque touches are in full view in this and other Iosseliani films. His frames are not so much concerned with plot as with people who seem to be frenetically busy while they're actually not doing much of anything at all. This is Iosseliani's view of the world: life as ennui and illusory importance, life filled with people who are not really sure what they're doing on Planet Earth.
Vincent (French actor Jacques Bideau) works in a disgusting chemical plant that belches monstrous clouds of pollutants, yet absolutely no smoking is allowed on the premises. Vincent is a hapless but well-meaning, aspiring painter who's regularly ignored by his rotten kids (they're always telling him to get lost).
Vincent's father (Radslav Kinski) tells him to take a vacation and 'luxuriate' in the great breeding grounds of Western culture, to find the historical roots of our great modern societies. So Vincent goes to Venice, where he and other tourists circle canals in boats, going nowhere and seeing nothing. He climbs a roof with a Venetian, who shows Vincent an array of ancient, grimy factory buildings -- the antithesis of the usually romantic Venetian facade -- and proudly says: 'This is Venice'. Vincent sends postcards of the Pyramids to his mother, who rips them up, not the slightest bit interested. He meets his uncle (Iosseliani himself), who's actually a flamboyant charlatan, a layabout lout pretending to be some kind of 'noble' who records piano music and pretends it is he who is playing.
Vincent returns from his odyssey, having achieved and experienced very little of anything.
No other director in the world is quite like Iosseliani. There are a lot of Brecht's 'distancing' techniques in this Georgian-born director's work. There is relatively little dialogue, and he rarely, if ever, shows close ups -- the screen is always full of characters in long shots who are always trying to do something, or go somewhere, even if it's across the street and back again. The absurdity of human purpose is a recurring motif in Iosseliani's work.
Another important aspect of the director's films is his divergence from the usual centre of cinematic action (i.e. the foreground). This technique was perfected by Jean Renoir in his brilliant 'Rules of the Game'(1939) and partially repeated two years later in 'Citizen Kane'. Since then, the technique has been used to great effect by, especially, Robert Altman. Ioselliani revives it brilliantly here. Many of the great moments in his films -- see for example 1999's Adieu, Plancher des Vaches (Farewell, Home Sweet Home) -- are taking place in the background. This is a reflection of Iosseliani's world view: what happens behind us is often more important than what happens in front of us.
Iosseliani's humour is always understated. There are no slapstick moments in his films -- just flourishes of quirky, off-centre people doing a lot of silly things.
We all live lives of quiet ennui, even as we believe we don't. Life is ultimately a process of movement from one tedious experience to the next. Nobody shows this better, or does this better, than Otar Iosseliani.