Director Dea Kulumbegashvili / 2021 / France,Georgia

Viewer advice: Contains sexual violence and high-impact sexual themes

Georgia’s contender for the 2021 Best International Feature Film Oscar is an explosive study of a woman unravelling, and awakening, amid religious intolerance, domestic indifference and gender-based persecution.

Former actor Yana lives in a remote Jehovah’s Witness community in the Caucasus mountains. Her husband, David, is the congregation’s leader, and she has long since relinquished her own needs to cater for his. When their Kingdom Hall is firebombed during a service, David heads to Tbilisi to consult with Church elders. Already struggling with isolation, Yana is left behind to fend for their son – and soon attempts to salvage her autonomy when met with an unwelcome intrusion.

Writer/director Dea Kulumbegashvili’s searing feature debut shares similar DNA with the work of Michael Haneke, Chantal Akerman and Carlos Reygadas (the last of whom acts as co–executive producer here), but it aggressively forges its own cinematic language. DOP Arseni Khachaturan shoots in stunning 35mm and Academy ratio, creating almost entirely static shots that ratchet up the tension in even the most unassuming of scenes. Ia Sukhitashvili is mesmerising as Yana, her powerhouse performance winning her the top acting award at San Sebastián International Film Festival, among the film’s swag of other gongs, including Best Film. Leading the jury there, Call Me by Your Name (MIFF 2017) director Luca Guadagnino called the film “a revelation … that fills the screen with flames”.

Beginning is a full-throated announcement, on a global stage, of a new and deeply important voice in world cinema.” – Criterion Cast

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