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Since Otar Left

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While watching Since Otar Left, a superb drama set in the post-Communist ruins of Tbilisi, Georgia, those with ears keen to the inflections of French, Russian and Georgian might realize that we are, in fact, watching actors. Of the three principal women, only one is Georgian while another is Russian and a third is Polish-French.

But it's a testament to French director Julie Bertucelli's background in documentaries that the film's world of dreary Soviet-era apartment buildings, flea marketeering and petty graft is so convincing. Bertucelli has spent a lot of time in Georgia and it shows in ways big and small. An example of the latter: A late night visit to the emergency room reveals a hospital with faint, flickering light courtesy of a generator and doctors who will leave their chess games if you can pay in cash.

Although we never meet Otar in this film, he's the pride and joy of family matriarch Eka, the good son who gave up a non-lucrative medical career to work as a construction worker in Paris. He calls frequently and sends money home. But when he dies, daughter Marina and granddaughter Ada endeavor to keep the truth from Eka. It's a peg on which hangs a delicately observed family drama and a portrait of contemporary Europe in the age of mobile capitalism and the mobile labor force that chases after the money.

Since Otar Left also features a fine performance from 90-something Esther Gorintin (pictured above), who began her acting career just a few years ago. There aren't words to describe the image of Eka/Gorintin sneaking off from her family and smoking two cigarettes on an amusement park ride. And just as the film reaches one inevitable conclusion, Bertucelli pulls out another one. The result is one of the most powerfully affecting final reels in recent cinema.

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