The Cinematic Gems of The Caucasus

Elspeth Black

The beauty and turmoil that seem to go hand in hand in The Caucasus have inspired a great number of excellent films set in the stunning yet rough landscape of the region. These films reveal the modern issues and dramas that surround the people of the region.
For centuries The Caucasus has been an area of the world characterised by both beautiful scenery and terrible wars. It has been claimed by a plethora of different nationalities and has repeatedly been subject to attacks and attempts to dominate it by the larger surrounding nations. Today most of the Caucasus is divided into different nations with a few semi-autonomous regions still fighting for independence in the northern parts.

Although early films such as Kidnapping, Caucasian Style (1967), which makes a humorous comment on the old practice of ‘bride kidnapping’, were clear Soviet attempts at luring the tourist masses to the various resorts of this region; the Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis have themselves in more recent times risen to produce films that depict not just the beauty, but certainly also the darker sides to The Caucasus. Kidnapping, Caucasian Style received popular feedback from critics and viewers in the Soviet Union and throughout the rest of Europe, and has been dubbed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest Russian comedies of all time.
Vodka Lemon (2004) and Since Otar Left (2003) both touch on the issue of young people immigrating to Western Europe in order to seek a better life. This often means that people are only able to keep in contact with their relatives back home through letters and support packages which usually contain money to support the rest of the family. Since Otar Left specifically outlines the situation of a young doctor, Otar, who was obliged to move to France and work illegally as a construction worker in order to make the money needed to support his family back in Georgia. The character of Otar in the film is not seen directly by the audience, and his existence as an unseen character emphasises the feeling of distance and isolation that family members felt between one another as they were unable to regularly keep in contact.
Atom Ergoyan’s film Ararat (2002) and the Georgian film The Legacy (2005) both deal with modern protagonists having to deal with the past of this region. Ararat takes a very personal approach to the Armenian genocide in 1915 and the difficult disputes surrounding it. Through this direct approach, the film successfully forces the main character to confront not just his own tragic past but also that of his nation. The film also looks at the theme of truth, and the ways in which this theme are addressed through the medium of visual art. Similar challenges are faced in The Legacy, in which we see three foreigners taken through a remote area of Georgia, where ancient laws are still in use. Here they come across two people who strive to challenge the visitors’ ideas of right and wrong.
Through the tools given to them by the visual arts, the directors of the films discussed have gone beyond the narratives of violence and bloodshed which dominate the Western portrayal of The Caucasus area; and aided the region to show more of what it has to offer.

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