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The one joy in the lives of a mother and daughter comes from the regular letters sent to them from Paris from the family's adored son, Otar. When the daughter finds out that Otar has died suddenly, she tries to conceal the truth from her mother, changing the course of their lives forever. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Three Generations of Women's Experience Crafted by First-Time Director
[See IMDb home page for this film for cast names-they aren't known in the U.S.]
Consistently interesting and often moving, first-time director Julie Bertucelli brings to the screen a sometimes humorous, often sad story about three women - grandmother, mother and daughter - living in Georgia (the Georgia that was part of the USSR). No one is starving here but a workers' paradise it isn't either.
The white-haired grandmother is bent and saddled with a heart problem. Living with her in a small but neat apartment boasting many shelves of French books in fine bindings are her daughter, Marina, widow of a soldier killed in the Soviet Union's Afghanistan debacle, and Ada, a student in her late teens or early twenties. She isn't a great beauty but her sensitive face reflects a growing intelligence and a wide range of feelings. All three speak French fluently and each has an emotional attachment to France. The grandmother boasts that the family managed to hide the tomes from "the Bolsheviks."
Notwithstanding her love of France, grandma pines for the good old days of Stalin where everything currently out of kilter would have been fixed by Uncle Joe. She goes as far as to claim she can prove the dictator never ordered anyone killed. There's a surprisingly large number of older Russians and people from former Soviet republics who still maintain that view today.
Otar is the grandmother's beloved son, a Moscow-trained doctor who left Georgia to work, illegally, in construction in France. Writing or phoning regularly, and occasionally sending money, was his habit until, near the beginning of the film, Marina learns he has been killed in an on-the-job accident.
Marina and Ada grieve intensely by themselves. Marina comes up with the terrific(!) idea to keep the news of Otar's demise from the old lady. Her assumption is that her mother, who lived through The Purges and The Great Patriotic War, would die upon hearing the awful news. Not too hard to imagine the complications that can arise from such a scheme with the risk of disclosure of the truth hanging like a cheap suit. Ada is impressed into writing fulsome letters from Otar which his mother never seems to recognize as bogus, even when looking at them.
Things become more complicated, not surprisingly. This isn't the most original plot ever. But then grandma shocks and amazes Marina and Ada with tickets for a Paris vacation to see Otar.
The trip allows the story to continue to an unexpected, satisfying and very lovely ending (which I won't, of course, reveal).
This film is less about a missing and mourned son than it is about inter-generational dynamics among three women who have a very deep and honest love for each other. And it's also a reminder of how resilient people can be when they must. Ada is torn between two worlds but she isn't neurotic or destructive-she's quietly finding her own way. Marina is resigned to life with a supportive, kind boyfriend who cares for her but who she says she can't love. But she isn't cold or exploitative-she seems like a lot of fun when she's with him. And grandma, her devotion to Stalin notwithstanding, is a rock. A realistic one at that.
I hope to see more from Ms. Bertucelli soon.
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