Repentance (1984)

One of the most significant works of Georgian cinema, this anti-totalitarian film previously banned by the Soviets deals with its serious themes through a potent mix of acute symbolism and surrealist absurdity. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,227

Dir. Tengiz Abuladze
1984 | Soviet Union | Drama | 144 mins | 1.37:1 | Georgian & Russian

Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some nudity and mature themes

Cast: Avtandil Makharadze, Zeinab Botsvadze, Ia Ninidze
Plot: Varlam Aravidze is the authoritarian, Stalin-like mayor of a Georgian town. In the days following his funeral, the grave keeps being mysteriously robbed and his corpse appearing in the most unusual places.
Awards: Won Grand Prize of the Jury, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury & FIPRESCI Prize (Cannes); Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globes)
Source: Georgian National Film Center

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Authoritarianism, Power, Injustice
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Not many know about Tengiz Abuladze, myself included.  So I hope this review will get more cinephiles to discover what has been regarded to be one of the most significant works of Georgian cinema, produced during the later period of the Soviet era. 

Repentance has been banned, unbanned, and then banned again by the Soviet authorities when it was first released in the mid-‘80s.  It is not difficult to see why because this is one of the most explicitly anti-totalitarian films ever made. 

It’s a rather complex work to absorb, both narratively and thematically, as the director deals with its serious themes of authoritarianism and oppression through a potent mix of acute symbolism and surrealist absurdity. 

It’s also a wonder then how Abuladze managed to get the tone right on point, considering that it is at once a comedy, satire, courtroom drama, and family drama. 

When the well-buried dead body of the town’s mayor repeatedly turns up on the lawn of his immediate family’s house, secrets, nightmares and memories begin to surface. 

“We’ll catch a cat in the dark room, even if there is no cat.”

Through the use of flashbacks and dreamlike sequences, Abuladze paints a character portrait of the aforesaid mayor as his legacy is scrutinised, at the risk of blaspheming a ‘great man’. 

The allusions to Stalin and Hitler are as clear as day, to the extent that the mayor physically looks like a combination of both despots. 

Avtandil Makharadze who plays him (and also his son in a double-role) is extraordinary, and perhaps a masterstroke as Abuladze tries to question the implications of power and guilt, as family and politics intersect in painful ways. 

Most of all, Repentance works as an exorcism of the ghosts seeded by the worst side of communism.  The film’s playful nature is the icing on the cake, as if the filmmakers were having the last laugh as they—and audiences—triumphed over evil.

Grade: A



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