Fri. Oct 30th, 2020

TIFF Review: ‘Beginning’ knows where to start but no idea how to end

Plot: When a mysterious attack takes place on a church in one of Georgia’s remote villages, a game of power ensues between a woman and a police officer trying to bury the case. 

Review: 

Dea Kulumbegashvili’s BEGINNING could have been a much better film. Featuring an interesting premise and strong acting, the film’s lackluster storytelling, frustrating longueur and muddled screenplay turn it into a confusing, unpleasant viewing experience. Unlikely to click with audiences abroad, this is a film with important issues but an execution that fails it. 

The story centers on Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili) who is living a life she feels is not what she had always had in mind. Moving to one of Georgia’s remote villages with her family, she is a Jehovah’s Witness missionary in a community that’s mostly Christian Orthodox. The local village folk are against the missionary which they believe threatens their values and disturbs their long-held lifestyle and ideological system.

One day, during a service, a mysterious attack takes place at the missionary as fire runs through every corner, a sign that the couple are clearly not welcome there. What makes matters more complicated is that the local police choose not to really pursue the case, as if compliant themselves in this hate crime against Yana’s faith. With the indifference from local authorities, Yana and her husband David find themselves at the crossroads of staying in such a hostile environment or fighting back regardless the price or consequences. 

While David is less keen on finding out the identity of the attackers, Yana seems fixated on finding out the truth. She crosses paths with a a local police officer (Kakha Kintsurashvili) and a power game ensues. While seemingly trying to help Yanat at first, the police officer’s true intentions quickly surface, and what starts as a pursuit of truth soon turns into a dirty, blackmailing game. 

BEGINNING is one of those films whose premise is more interesting when told than shown – not because it’s unable to translate to film, but because the film itself is unable to sustain interest and develop it with deft storytelling. Suffering from frustratingly unnecessary long takes that consume much of the film’s running time for no reason, the film distances viewers as it draws them away rather than pulling them in. The approach while seemingly observational to the film’s characters fails to really uncover who they truly are despite the extra time allocated to them. It is one thing to spend 5-minute silent scenes with character pondering about what their next moves should be – but when such scenes lead up to no narrative progression, the exercise itself becomes pointless. 

Thematically, BEGINNING deals with key issues of police power, intolerance and lack of inclusion in modern-day Georgia. Local audiences will certainly appreciate its boldness, particularly when addressing the double standards that plague the country’s justice system. But it could have been a truly engaging picture, and sadly it just falls flat.

Verdict: Important themes but poor execution leads BEGINNING to leave much to be desired. A frustrating viewing experience that fails to sustain interest, it may resonate locally but will face difficulty in crossing over to global audiences. 

Grade: C-

This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival.

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