For Otar Iosseliani (1934-2023)

Tati is a gentleman that I have a great deal of respect for. I believe that he did his work observing a world that, at the time, was going mad. He is not however a model for me; it was another time and a different look on the world. René Clair and Marcel Carné did not anticipate the beginning of the disaster, the beginning of this typhoon of madness that invades us today; Tati, he sensed it a little, while remaining sweet, tender and fairly “familial”. He showed the exaggeration of petit-bourgeois bad taste in Mon oncle; in Trafic, he saw the arrival of a new time but still in the tradition of Chaplin’s Modern Times, that is, in insisting on the comic side of things, by observing human behaviour as a child’s game.

Chaplin’s and Tati’s method is the old method of the clown. It is a matter of a single character standing against the world, in the footsteps of Don Quixote and Voltaire’s Candide. The character, in its relation to the world, is like corn husk paper that a chemist plunges into an acid solution. It is through the character that the acidity of the world is revealed. My method borrows more from the paintings of Breugel. It is the sum of a puzzle, the intersection of different characters blinded by the impossibility of continuing to live in tranquillity, according to their desires and what they understand about life. The drama of the world is that of the intersection of desires: the increase of the desire to have and the disappearance of the desire to give.

From: Marcel Jean and Micheline Dussault, “Entretien avec Otar Iosseliani : L’homme tranquille”, 24 images, Number 66, April–May 1993.

War is always useless, it doesn’t change anything. War between neighbors, between political parties, between states, war to conquer territories—it has no use whatsoever. Starting from the First World War, filmmakers have been laughing at war, mocking it, starting with Charlie Chaplin. The only result of war is pillage.

From: “Locarno Interview: Otar Iosseliani”, by Nick Pinkerton, August 19, 2015 (Film Comment)

ML:A few days ago, I and Agniezska Holland, a Parisian who left Poland, were explaining our emotions simultaneously to this American fellow. He was saying: “Well, now times have changed and one can go back there”; while we were trying to make him understand that there was no place for us to go back to. You cannot go back to the past.

OI: It became the past. All things are different now. There is no sense in attempting to go back to childhood sites. Childhood is gone, and you won’t get much out of that but pain and disappointment. So you grow sad. But one must go back anyway, because what remains is some understanding of people’s inner motions. And language plays a very important role, for only we speak it and know it, and it contains that associative stock as well as our system of values.

ML:You know, Brodsky said that when he arrived here, he made a resolution: The world expects moans and complaints from you, hence it would be bad tone to actually moan and complain. And he kept himself in check and tried not to permit himself to do anything of the sort. And then, said he, “The mask grew onto the snout and became a face.” And now, he said, one need not make any effort…

OI: He said that? Good for him!

ML:But at the same time, he continued to say words like: “Back home, I used to do it that way” or “Back home, I wouldn’t keep in contact with that kind of person.”

OI: Home means “the way it used to be,” let’s say it that way… How did I leave? I had a conflict with The Center, as they call it now, the State Cinema, the official propaganda machine. They rejected all the screenplays, whatever I brought in. And I could not make concessions. That’s why they were pleased to let me go. It was burdensome for them as well — to have me not working and everyone asking them: “Why isn’t he working?” They didn’t know how to respond. “He’s thinking,” they would say. Well, OK — for a year. You cannot just think for a whole eight years… I think it isn’t bad that I didn’t work for 8 years: to work all the time is dangerous as well.

ML:It only seems so now.

OI: One can’t work without breaks. You stop living.

ML:You didn’t work without breaks. Before Pastoral, there were pauses between your films as well.

OI: There were. And they were somehow natural, I think. I could never, say, finish one film today and sit down at my desk tomorrow and start thinking of another one. Nothing will come of it. It’s the film that will invent itself, plant itself in my head, and tell me what it wants to become… Such is our profession. You know, I don’t consider as my colleagues those who adopt big literary texts for the screen. That’s a different profession. Not even to mention those who film truly great works of literature — that’s simply absurd. It’s a pretty bad idea, for example, to mess with Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov. Everything that he wanted to say to the world he communicated with the means that were natural to him. And he’s not subject to explications. That’s what I think. If it’s some lousy little book, then I guess you could do it. But then why use the book? You can invent it yourself. Big deal, as if it were Newton’s Law.

ML:Well the book’s significance could be that it turned out to be that very initial impulse that turned on your emotional apparatus. After all, the story by Bogomolov called Ivan is so far from Ivan’s Childhood that there’s almost no connection left.

OI: Could be, could be. I don’t like that method. Why screen Dostoevsky? One has to read Dostoevsky. They ask you: “Did you see War and Peace?” “Sweetie,” I say, “you’ve got to read War and Peace!” What the hell do I need for it to have — who was it, Ktorov? Playing old Balkonsky? Why should Pierre be played by Bondarchuk? What is all that for? It stays in your head. Imagine, people who have not read the book will watch the movie, then start reading and they’ll see Bondarchuk. Why, what kind of thing is that? When, my father saw the movie — he had just returned from exile then — they asked him: “Well, what do you think?” And he said: “All of the nobles move like liveried servants.” So that’s all lost and one cannot be taught how to do it anymore.

ML:One doesn’t want to believe that some things don’t exist anymore.

OI: The fact that some things don’t exist anymore is sad only for the last of the Mohicans. The following generation won’t be either sad or glad about it.

ML:General reasoning is one thing, Otar, but it’s another thing to end up as one of these extinct reptiles, the last of the Mohicans. The future is made by you, but not for you. Remember how it goes in that story by the Strugatskis? I don’t know if you like them or not.

OI: Yes, very much.

ML:You work for that future — it is your vector, your aspiration. And, all of a sudden, you turn out to be a witness, a contemporary of, a participant in this demolition. Here it is, the new world, but you aren’t needed in it anymore, and you yourself have no real human need for it. These are new conditions to which your organism and your consciousness aren’t adapted. Remember the Strugatsky story: The mocretzy stop existing physically, but from them, from their flesh, a new world originates. But Victor Banev, whose flesh has stayed intact, cannot and doesn’t want to merge with that world.

OI: In any case, all the moans and tears about how everything was good before and how worse times are coming stem from the fact that what came earlier was familiar to us, and that this familiarity has gone, never to return. Thats how it is in this world. What’s coming will be a different time, just as shitty as ours, but special and intelligible to someone else other than ourselves.

ML:Another question. What did we imagine the future to be? So much for whether we’re needed there or not. But how did we picture it? The things that are happening now in Georgia — is that the future that you imagined?

OI: Unfortunately not. Unfortunately not. I had a friend who got a plot of land for a summerhouse. It was near Moscow. So he was inspecting the land with a forest warden and saw that it had nothing growing on it but aspen trees. So he says to the warden: “Why is the land so bad here — nothing but aspens.” And the warden said: “There was a thick forest here before, but they cut it, and now it’s only aspens. But you know, he says, see that firtree growing and over there is a little oak that made it. If you wait 20–30 years, it will be forest again and the aspens will disappear. But if you level it twice, then only aspens will grow from then on.” And Georgia was leveled at least four times within a brief historical period. It was leveled during the invasion of the 11th Russian Army at the time of the first emigration wave; leveled during the large peasant uprising against the Soviets in 1924; Stalin has purged it of even those communists who still believed in something, and, has naturally wiped out all the aristocrats. Then, there was a war, where 600,000 people were killed, and Georgia’s population at the time was 2.5 million. Well, this sufficed.

My dad had 11 brothers, and I am their sole heir. You can thus imagine what happened. And my mother and my aunt who raised me did so in spite of the existing circumstances. I was lucky. For later on, if you assume the responsibility of being an artist, it’s very significant where and how you were brought up. If you grew up in a foster home, if you were punished and whipped and your teachers were mean; or if you grew up in the house of a drunken father who thrashed your mother, beat his kids and broke furniture, while your mother was also cruel and drunk, then your films or your books would be very different from those you would make if you had grown up in an environment of attention, love, respect, and care. Georgia’s been leveled four times, so no matter how much we, the remaining Georgians of a different epoch that are left by accident to live out the rest of our days, no matter how we try or wave our arms in the air, it all cannot be restored anymore.

True, there are texts, the texts that have had a certain influence on those young people who gathered on the square and were mercilessly beaten and chased away. There are texts, and maybe they deliver some sort of structure. Texts have to be read, and for that you need teachers. There were songs which required skill, not to mention ability. They stopped singing the songs, stopped teaching them and stopped learning them. The whole wave that has appeared with walkmen and videocassettes has finished off the last remainders. A whole culture has collapsed; since culture is not something where one cellist performs, and the others, who don’t know how to play, listen to him. Culture is when everyone knows how to do something.

ML:Naturally, when Liszt visited Russia and played at home salons, the people who played the piano themselves were in a position to appreciate his performance; he just played better than they did.

OI: And yet it seems to me that there is still some sort of energy in Georgia that can lead it to rescue. I wait in hope that it will happen.

From: An interview with Otar Iosseliani by Mikhail Lemkhin in San Francisco in 1991: There is no Return to Anywhere”. (

I find that even more than making people think, your cinema encourages the spectator to participate because there is this playful side of the puzzle where if s/he is attentive the spectator can find details: the mini-guillotine for chopping garlic, recurrence of the guillotine from the beginning. It invites the viewer to play and…

Quite simply to relax and see what we offer you as a sum of themes which are sometimes serious, sometimes eccentric, funny or not funny at all. It all ends with a clear theme: in all this mess that surrounds us, what matters is the existence of love and deep friendship. When we show violence in a film, we should make fun of it. Because it’s so serious that talking seriously about it is bad manners. The Gestapo or the KGB tolerated being criticized. The mafia even paid for films that showed their ruthless villainy to spread the idea that they are invincible, but what they couldn’t stand was being made fun of. All the secret services too, all the totalitarian state things couldn’t stand being laughed at. That’s why you make a film while laughing to detect the idiocy of their effort. The phenomenon of life means that it always ends badly for them too.

From: Interview with Otar Iosseliani by Xanaé Bove, 11/2015 (

[In the absence of films to share, sadly, we must limit ourselves to trailers].

My films are parables, after all, and the language of a parable is — geared toward a certain kind of universality.

From: An interview with Otar Iosseliani by Mikhail Lemkhin in San Francisco in 1991: There is no Return to Anywhere”. (

Home Sweet Homeless: The Harmonious Dissonance of Otar Iosseliani

“When a film is successful, I think, it’s always a bad sign,” Iosseliani ponders. “As far as I’m concerned to make ‘great cinema’ is absolutely impossible, the very idea repels me. These are my criteria, there is nothing I can do about it.” For perhaps nothing can be done about many things except comprehending the charming insanity of human life on earth in all its meaningless beauty. The meditative irony of Iosseliani’s cinema stands out for its unexpected angle that somehow manages to show a familiar thing in a completely different light. The surreal animal presences that populate many of his movies seem to suggest the awe and shock with which animals must look at us, a perspective that Iosseliani’s look whimsically conveys. As modern life accelerates beyond any limit, depriving life of the time it requires, Iosseliani’s cinema is a timely reminder of how vital idleness is. He is, after all, a director who films the ineluctable fate of objects and wo/men in all its absurd, painful and ridiculous magnificence while trying to salvage the time we don’t seem to have, let alone master. An inconspicuous, charming anti-conformist whose simple and profound cinema feels more like friendships than films, evoking the fading art and pleasure of conviviality.

Celluloid Liberation Front, posted in Cinema Scope Online

[See The Guardian obituary to Otar Iosseliani here.]

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