gGeorgian writer-director Dea Kulumbegashvili’s fierce debut feature film about a Jehovah’s Witness whose faith is being tested opens with an act of hostility. The camera observes from a fixed point at the back of a Kingdom Hall as the space fills up and the blinds are finally drawn. A few minutes after the start of the service, someone throws an incendiary bomb into the room. The camera continues to watch the flames begin to spread.
Start focuses on Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili), former actress and devoted wife of congregation leader David (Rati Oneli, who co-wrote the film). Yana has to deal with both her bossy husband and Alex (Kakha Kintsurashvili), a dangerous man who insists he is a Tbilisi police detective. Kulumbegashvili draws parallels between local contempt for Jehovah’s Witnesses – a religious minority in the Georgian mountain town of Lagodekhi – and a broader patriarchal contempt for women. Sukhitashvili’s subtle performance brings interiority to a character who might otherwise be entirely defined by their suffering.
The director favors a static camera and extended shots which give her compositions a sacred quality. The length of some scenes seems conflicting, much like Chantal Akerman’s long takes in her 1975 feminist classic. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Brussels. Through this rigorous aesthetic, a distinctive point of view emerges. An act of sexual violence takes place in a setting of natural beauty – a chattering stream flanked by wild flowers. The juxtaposition looks like a provocation.