1971-1980ArthouseComedyEldar ShengelaiaGeorgia

Eldar Shengelaia – Sherekilebi AKA The Eccentrics (1974)

There’s a distinct madness to Georgian auteur Eldar Shengalaia’s method when it comes to blending political satire and humour. He deploys madcap comedy with ease to both disguise and expose the nuanced complexities of individual and societal living during the Soviet era. The 1973 surrealistic satire Eccentrics is Shengalaia’s second feature-length comedy, in which he rekindles the thematic pneuma of his earlier diploma films such as Legend of the Frozen Heart and Fairy Tale in Snow (1958-60) by juxtaposing fantasy and reality in a fable-like love story, described variously by critics as “poetic”, “grand and eternal”, “a parable of grotesque realism” and “vaudeville-like.”

Somewhere in rural Georgia, country lad Ertaozi’s (Demno Jgenti) idyllic life comes to a startling halt when his father dies, leaving him orphaned. Auctioning his home and belongings to square up his father’s debts, Ertaozi sets off for the city, where a chance encounter with the winsome Margalita (Ariadna Shengelaia) makes him go weak at the knees. Sensing Ertaozi’s infatuation, Margalita manipulates him to further her own ends, and Ertaozi soon finds himself behind bars, albeit in the lively company of Qristepore (Vasili Chkhaidze), a zealous scientist who dreams of building a flying machine. Impressed with each other’s problem-solving acumen, Qristepore and Ertaozi soon form a mentorprotégé bond and, defying the swivel-eyed cop, Khuta (Boris Tsipuria) and his wily sidekicks, embark on an unexpected flight of fantasy, both literal and allegorical.

“Eccentrics was perceived as a fairy tale, but in fact, it’s an ode to freedom!” exclaims Shengalaia, who, at 90, has retained his crown as the undisputed “King of Tragicomedy”. Disguised as dreamy folklore, Eccentrics utilises classical and pastoral humour to articulate Georgia’s pursuit of national and cultural identity, whilst underscoring the absurdities of the Socialist system through a series of oddball characters who are both perpetrators and victims of its ideological misdemeanours. Although steeped in Georgian traditions, the characters of Eccentrics carry a universal appeal and their idiosyncratic charm in blending pathos with laughter is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin, one of Shengelaia’s great influences.

“Almost all Georgian cinema is an allegory of that [Soviet] time, because you couldn’t speak directly,” says Shengalaia. Despite its non-controversial plot, Eccentrics’ subtext did not escape the scrutiny of the regime’s gatekeepers, and its on-screen release was deferred for a long time, restricting it to screenings at smaller clubs. Years later, when the film was allowed on the big screen, the subversive significance of Qristepore’s and Ertaozi’s predicament was clearer – Soviet dissidents were often confined to psychiatric institutions. Shengalaia and co-writer Rezo Gabriadze were also denied the permission to take Eccentrics out of the country. “It was unimaginable that you would go beyond the [Soviet] boundaries then. We had the feeling that we were born here, we would be here forever…” Decades later, when western audiences and critics finally had the opportunity to sample his films (including Eccentrics at Cannes and other film festivals), instant comparisons were drawn with the likes of Vittorio de Sica and Luis Buñuel.

A delightful cocktail of love, lust, chicanery, and scientific wizardry, Eccentrics is a triumphant tale of choosing freedom over bondage, dreams over reality, and hope over fear. “Captivity gave us the impulse to create something exciting and interesting. This is a real paradox”, says Shengelaia. Of his titular eccentrics, he adds: “They were flying neither to the west, nor to the east. They simply got tired of the reality and rose above it.” Half a century on from its release in 1973, the leitmotifs of Eccentrics remain deeply resonant and relevant, especially at a time when love and harmony seem to be in short supply an

3.06GB | 1h 18m | 1920×1080 | mkv



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