Inside the Sphere: Vedreba and the purity of the aged
At almost every turn one can hear another one saying that things are not like they were once and many’s the time these things have to do with all kinds of artistic activities, but now I choose the world of film. In general terms, one can wonder why old things seem to have more substance than the up-to-date ones. Could be the fact that our psychology is not compatible with a historical mindset? It might be that and if so, there is the mystery which catches us by all means, because a thing is true: where there is no mystery, things are not animated. But is it all just this? Or could also be the fact that our world got broadly under a cloud of incredulity which blows in a twinkle the freedom of creation? If we remember the films of the past century, we believe that the technical procedures involved a high difficulty in terms of operation, besides the political ideologies that threatened each individual vision. Many times I told myself that the political austerity of our history and the hostile climate in arts managed in fact to determine the artists to dream. And they dreamed so much that they reached a phase where dreams turned into reality, therefore their works were spontaneous. As Tristan Tzara bragged about his Dada one century ago, saying that „every bourgeois is a little playwright”, as clear is today that almost everyone can become whatever he or she wants. Thus, today people work less with dreams and more with appearances.
But right now the present time does not tempt me at all and I want to go back in time to write about a cinematographic relict from a very mysterious land that is Georgia of the Caucasus region. The Plea or Vedreba is a film made in 1967 or 1968, something around. It is directed by Tengiz Abuladze and included in a trilogy along with The Wishing Tree (1977) and (Repentance) 1987. The two latter films are somehow more famous than the first one. I don’t want to split hairs like a film critic who understands everything, because already knows everything. That is why now I am not trying to create the dilation of a plot by introducing spoilers in order to show the world that I understood everything. I am summarizing ideas and I am taking into account only the generalization of a story and the force of the images discovered through it. I think each individual can understand something as long there is curiosity.
Vedreba is that kind of black & white film which is based on an astounding contrast. One can be interested only in its subject on the first impulse and not at all in its technical execution. Some would say that an old film relies on bad recording quality comparing to the new technology which must be better since it is new. But I believe that I found in this film some camera angles, compositions, rhythms and some focus-unfocus successions that can transform many contemporary productions into elementary exercises.
What is this all about? Basically, things revolve around the positive human nature and the individual methods for keeping it. The opening line says „The beautiful nature of human can never die” and the entire creation is connected with two poems written by Vazha Pshavela (Aluda Ketelauir and Host and Guest), a great name in the Georgian literature. The main character is a warrior from the medieval age who is expelled from his community after he defeated an enemy and did not want to accomplish a ritual which meant to cut off the hand of the foe. The warrior’s reasons rested upon his own spiritual consciousness. He was then under the necessity of becoming a man of the road, turning into a pilgrim who encounters some dramatic obstacles.
The dialogues and narration are rendered through Vazha’s lyrics and most of the times, the characters do not open their mouths when the lyrics are narrated. The roles are mostly emphasized through technical approaches like the framing manner or through the close-up shots. This process brings the strength of the story because the witness or the viewer becomes a subject that is allowed to enter the characters’ minds and to learn their visions although they do not seem to present them by word of mouth.
The animal sacrifices and the basis of human sacrifice represent an important aspect in the story line of this film. Some of the most powerful images depict the cult of the dead or the ancestors’ cult. Their power is increased thorugh folkloric music, but on the other hand there is the orchestral music which makes a fascinating theatricality, especially because the rhythm and the metering in Vazha’s poetry are quite monumental. As for the plot, there is an absolute contrast set by a principle of duality through the medium of a positive ghost and a negative ghost that join the main character on the whole road and even after the road is done. The rendering of these phantoms is totally unique even if their embodiment is based on the classical dualism of black and white or light and darkness. They seem to represent the entities that form the human being and the most interesting point is what happens with these phantoms in the afterlife.
In the religious tradition of Georgia, „vedreba” means a type of prayer wherewith someone asks something from a god. When it comes to the film, someone asks for the revelation and the meaning of the human being. For us, people outside of Georgia, the film’s action seems to build a colossal surrealist realm, which is dominated by various hermetical traps. But each ritual in Vedreba is part of the Georgian population’s life or at least it was until one point. For instance, some of the characters lit some candles and then they blow them out inside a chalice and this is all about symbolizing the renouncement motif. Also, the entire regional background gives the authenticity of these spiritual practices. The main character is committed to inner storm and danger, while the hills or the Islamic architecture stress this through the way they are introduced in compositions. At the same time, the overall theme is placed at the intersection between Christianity and Islamism.
An intense cinematographic work is created through the idea of seeking the individuality and the positive elements in the human life and Vedreba can be regarded as such especially due to its poetic frankness and subjectiveness. The director’s vision engages over the poet’s one and this looks like an inherent phenomena. While the impressionistic themes do not have so much power, the old things get more vivid than new ones. The fact they are old means they are far from us and we cannot touch them by using our conceptions, especially because things already happened. The alteration of some inner visions is not something new, but something which exists since the beginning of civilizations. One can believe that this alteration is related to the passage of time.