Salt White reviewed by Ben Pearce-Higgins
BGS film screenings resumed at the Georgian Embassy with Keti Machavariani’s beautifully crafted debut feature Salt White (2011). One of our members Ben Pearce-Higgins who was at the screening reviewed the film. Our season continues next month.
SALT WHITE Film showing at the Georgian Embassy on 29 March 2012
Salt White is a film by director Keti Machavariani set in post-Soviet Georgia at the beginning of the 21st century. Nana, 35, a single woman works as a seasonal worker on a Black Sea coast summer resort. Nana saves her income dreaming to purchase a small café in her hometown. She occasionally meets patrol officer Niko, a refugee from Abkhazia and war veteran. Niko takes care of old parents, living in a hotel with other refugees. The father is looking after the amnesic mother, who isn’t able to recognize even her own son. Nana and Niko’s closed world is disrupted by the homeless child Sopo. She points them to a new path, a path of hope. Only Nana is able to follow it.
We could approach this story as another depressing account of post Soviet life telling only of human misery and hopelessness. But there is another theme, very carefully told, which speaks of exactly the opposite. Life is stripped to its bare bones, universal human needs are there, but dire social and physical conditions dictate that only the strong spirited will attain their goals. Sopo an orphan has her dream of escaping to the Salt White beach and determinedly takes her chances when they appear. Nana does not waver in her decision to save money for her own café but takes small comforts when she can, such as Niko’s brutish but quite touching efforts at friendship, and evening swims at sunset. Her friendship with Sopo is not explained but in spite of their age difference one senses a common bond between them, which finally is revealed. The one who helps is helped in return. No one expects anything beyond what might be reached by their own effort. There are no free hand outs. It is not a moral tale but through all the intensely observed loneliness, pain, and suffering, hope and compassion seem to have an invisible presence with a miraculous sustaining power for everyone. This breaks through at one or two moments, for example when the children are dancing and when Sopo is on a ride at the fair, giving just a short glimpse of the true child in her. In Nana as the film progresses one never doubts this evident goodness in her in spite of her incredible deprivations. The camera work intensifies the hardship of life, staying mercilessly still as we observe Nana and Niko in the car, in a sort of questioning silence which tells exactly what the film is about, who are we and what controls our fate? These are unanswerable questions but ones which haunt us all, and give this touching film a universality which lifts it out of the ordinary. There is beauty and visual interest as well, seascapes, sunsets, night club scenes, human portraiture, especially of Nana herself, and the relaxing slow pace which allows us feel at home in the scenery and in the humanity of the story itself.
Hopefully this film will reach a wider audience and be seen for what it is, not an exercise in sensationalism but more in the tradition of French and Italian art films where fine observation and subtlety are offered to the discerning viewer.