So much pain and competition is caused in families when parents clearly favor one child over another. And an equal dose of suffering comes when children try to shield their elderly parents from the truth to spare them pain. These two familial themes are worked out with emotional richness in Since Otar Left, written and directed by Julie Bertuccelli.
The family matriarch, Eka (Esther Gorintin), lives in the Republic of Georgia with her middle-aged daughter, Marina (Nino Khomassouridze), and her teenage daughter, Ada (Dinara Droukarova). Times are hard; at flea markets everywhere people are selling off prized possessions just to put food on their tables. Power outages and water shortages are regular occurrences, which the three women have learned to take in stride. Marina sleeps with Tenguiz (Temour Kalandadze), a friend but doesn't want anything more out of their relationship than to be a helping hand when she needs one. Ada takes care of her grandmother by reading to her from the family's prize collection of French books while massaging her feet. She sleeps in the same bed with her mother and has sex with a boyfriend in his car.
Eka lives for communications from her beloved son Otar, a doctor who has been in Paris for two years trying to make a new life for himself. In a letter, he sends some money and briefly describes the challenges facing him abroad. Marina is very jealous of her brother who has always been her mother's favorite. But the harder she tries to please Eka, the more criticism she gets from her. It is not a pleasant situation, and Marina is a very unhappy woman. Then, while her mother is away in the countryside, she learns that Otar has been killed in an accident in Paris and buried in a grave for poor people since he did not have a visa.
Marina and Ada decide that Eka won't be able to handle the loss in her frail condition and so they come up with a scheme to deceive her. Ada composes letters from Otar and then reads them to her grandmother. Their plan works out quite nicely until Eka decides that she wants to visit her son in Paris. And without telling Marina or Ada, she sells the collection of French books for tickets to France for all three of them.
Since Otar Left is beautifully acted by the three lead women. The drama deftly conveys the unsettling and painful things that can happen in the family circle even when individuals are acting out of love. Writer and director Julie Bertuccelli has fashioned a psychologically nuanced drama that conveys the different shades of intimacy and hurt within this Georgian household. The surprising finale hints that even in circumstances of suffering and loss, liberation can take place in those who are willing to seize the moment.
Screened at the 41st New York Film Festival, October 2003.