Monanieba (Repentance, 1984)
Tengiz Abuladze by presenting a grotesque realism with a touch of subcutaneous self-sarcasm managed to bury all the fears that had survived for so many years in the USSR.
Tengiz Abuladze was one of the most influential personalities of the Georgian cinema. In his films he managed to combine themes taken from the folk tradition with issues that touched the daily life of a modern Soviet province. His work was internationally recognized through the trilogy that began in 1967 with Vedreba (The Plea) and continued in 1976 with Natvris Khe (The Tree of Wishes). The last and perhaps the most notable of all part was the allegorical dramatic comedy Monanieba (Repentance / მონანიება / Покаяние) that was filmed in 1984. The film participated in the 1987 Cannes Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI award.
In an imaginary Georgian town, the notorious and despotic mayor, Varlam Aravidze (Avtandil Makharadze), dies. After the funeral a series of strange events follow as the mayor’s body appears every day in different parts of the town. His son Abel, who is also played by Makharadze, is trying to find a solution to what is happening. He discovers that behind the exhumations is hiding an unknown woman, Ketevan Barateli (Zeinab Botsvadze) that aims to avenge Aravidze even after his death. The reason of her revenge is that her parents, who were artists, were two of the many victims during the years of his tyrannical mayoralty. Barateli will try to narrate her life having against her the mayor’s descendants, his son and his grandson.
Abuladze became known for his surreal poetic films but probably Repentance is his most layered and symbolic one. The story could be seen as a strange and macabre tale somewhere in the Caucasus, but certainly it is not just that. Starting from the personality that is expressed by the paradoxical mayor Aravidze, he is so real and simultaneously so inexistent, his surname in Georgian means son of no one. The main facts are simply given by judging his surreal look, as he is nothing more than a patchwork of tyrants. He wears Stalin’s boots and Mussolini’s black shirt, he also has Hitler’s mustache and the glasses of Lavrentiy Beria, head of Stalin’s secret police. Also through his actions, Aravidze is just the main exponent of all these dictators’ ideas together, indistinctly and tortuously. The tyrannical mayor is an emphatic sample of the Stalinist past that until then no one had dared to touch let alone judge or make fun of it. The thing that is even scarier is that Aravidze’s imaginary absurdity is not as realistic as the actual historical facts. Abuladze does not simply mention the past of his country. He also dares to equate the communists and the fascists as one person as he does not feel that there are any convincing ideological differences in the way they acted. Dictators are always the same regardless of their beliefs.
Abuladze is using his main character to manage in a special manner the transition from the past to the present and finally to the future. By giving to Makharadze the double role of the father and the son he mentions in the most straightforward way that despite the theoretical evolution of the generations, the political ideology and subsequently its application remain always the same. The innocent conformists who replaced the Stalinists were not unaware of the crimes of the past, they acted the same and they were just a more civilized and bourgeois expression of previous tyrants. The future that is symbolized through Aravidze’s young grandson depicts the state of the USSR during that present period of Glasnost and Perestroika. USSR now is a country that must deal with the sins of the previous leaders while at the same time should convince everyone that has really changed. Throughout all this irrational and extreme setting Abuladze succeeds once again to add elements of the Georgian folk tradition which are blended with the actual events and they externalize in the most inappropriate way his country’s history.
As it was expected by the main subject, Repentance was closely supervised by the censorship officials from the very beginning. The film was completed in 1984, and was immediately banned. It took more than three years and the personal intervention of Gorbachev to have a release in theaters. Undoubtedly this is one of the key films of the last years of the USSR and it is believed that the effect on the audience was so intense to the point that influenced or even hastened Union’s fall. Tengiz Abuladze by presenting a grotesque realism with a touch of subcutaneous self-sarcasm managed to bury all the fears that had survived for so many years.