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Otar, a medical student from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, has left the bleak, crumbling city of Tiblisi where he grew up, to live in Paris. Left behind, and living together in a cramped apartment, are his doting mother Eka (Esther Gorintin) who believes he can do no wrong, his sister Marina (Nino Khomassouridze) and Marina's daughter, Ada (Dinara Droukarova). When the news of Otar's sudden death reaches Marina and Ada they decide not to tell the elderly Eka fearing the news would be too much for her. Instead, Ada writes letters pretending they are from Otar, depicting a happy, successful life. But Eka misses her beloved son and, to the horror of Ada and Marina, decides that the three women should go to Paris to visit him.

Review by Louise Keller:
A touching story about letting go of the old and embracing the new, Since Otar Left is the story of relationships between three generations of women who are struggling to cope with themselves, each other and life. Writer/director Julie Bertucelli takes a documentary point of view for the film, which won the Grand Jury Prize in Cannes in 2003, allowing the silences and the innermost emotions to come forth naturally.

The strength and beauty of Since Otar Left lies in the subtlety of script and performance, and although we never meet Otar, his impact is felt throughout the film. Bertucelli allows us to get to know the characters, and understand their plight. The emotional curve comes near the end, when we least expect it, when no words are required to tell the whole story.

Otar is the centre of the lives of all three women and for different reasons. He is the apple of his doting elderly mother Eka's eye, Marina's resented brother (the favoured child), and the uncle who comes between Ada's mother and grandmother. The three women live in a depressing environment, a cramped, dark apartment in what was once the Soviet Republic of Georgia. They speak to each other in a mix of three languages - Russian, Georgian and French. They know each other well and tolerate each other badly, and niceties are often forgotten through the rituals of every day living. It's as though they live by rote. Eka likes Ada to read Otar's letters aloud because she believes Marina has no soul in her expression; Marina never invites her lover Tengiz for dinner ('he's more fun in bed'); Ada is abrupt and detached from her peers.

The performances are wonderfully nuanced and underplayed, with ninety-year old Esther Gorintin remarkable as the elderly woman who has more than a little spirit left in her bulky frame. Nino Khomassouridze brings enormous emotional angst to the role of Marina, while Dina Droukarova excels in the difficult role of Ada, who is stifled by the world around her.

We first meet Eka as she peers at the cakes in a shop window. She looks at the cakes, selects carefully and points, before joining Marina and Ada who are waiting at the table. One cake, three women, no conversation. There's plenty to learn from this short scene with no dialogue - the tension between Eka and her daughter is obvious, while Ada sits patiently, looking bored. Truth cuts through the air like a knife when Eka, leaning over a basin with soap in her eyes, while having her hair washed, tells Marina, 'You've never loved your daughter properly,' to which, Marina replies, 'Neither have you.' The film is replete with detail and carefully observed moments.
As the three women embark on the trip to Paris in search of Otar, we are never sure where it will lead. The long awaited scene when Eka ventures to Otar's apartment block finally arrives and is totally void of sentimentality. The pace comes to a standtill. There are three responses that we are eagerly waiting for, and the impact we receive from each is substantial. It is the nuance and understated emotions that make this a special film.

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Depuis qu'Otar est parti...

CAST: Esther Gorintin, Nino Khomasuridze, Dinara Drukarova, Temur Kalandadze, Rusudan Bolqvadze, Sasha Sarishvil, Duta Skhirtladze, Abdellah Moundy

PRODUCER: Yael Fogiel

DIRECTOR: Julie Bertucelli

SCRIPT: Julie Bertucelli, Bernard Renucci (adapted by Roger Bohbot)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christophe Pollock

EDITOR: Emmanuelle Castro

MUSIC: (non original) Antoine Duhamel, Dato Evgenidze, Arvo Pärt

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Emmanuel de Chauvigny

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: October 14, 2004; Sydney: October 21, 2004; Other states to follow

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