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  • Writer's pictureJulia Sumzina

Rezo (2024): the development of an artist in the conditions of a totalitarian regime

Working as a film journalist and observer in 2018 I had a chance to attend a very interesting film premiere in Saint-Petersburg. Leo Gabriadze presented the documentary animation film about the life of his father Rezo Gabriadze. In a chamber atmosphere, in the presence of a small number of spectators and honored guests, such as, for example, Oleg Basilashvili, the Rezo film, like a box with colorful memories, told the public about how, even in conditions of totalitarianism, a really creative young person can grow into a multidisciplinary artist. Rezo Gabriadze himself acts not only as a narrator, but also as the author of drawings, of which about 500 were used for the film. The film was made in a mixed technique of hand-drawn animation and computer translation using video inserts.

Talking about the film it’s impossible to avoid the personality of Rezo Gabriadze who was a Soviet and Georgian screenwriter, playwright, director, artist, sculptor, founder of the Tbilisi Puppet Theatre. He is best known as the author of scripts for such films as Don't Grieve!, Mimino, Kin-dza-dza!, Passport etc. But Rezo Gabriadze was not only an outstanding screenwriter.

In the Tbilisi Puppet Theatre which he founded in 1981, being a director, playwright, artist and sculptor, he wrote plays and created puppets for his theatre.

In the 1990s he worked in Switzerland and France, where he staged dramatic performances.

Gabriadze was also connected with dance: he wrote and directed the play “Forbidden Christmas, or the Doctor and the Sick” for the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation in New York in 2004. The premiere took place in Minneapolis, and later it was held at Lincoln Center and at the Spoleto Festival.

Gabriadze was also an artist, sculptor and master of book graphics. His works have been exhibited in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Paris, Rennes and Dijon.

The story told by Rezo himself mixed the documentary and fiction. It can be compared with the human’s memory where the imagination plays quite an important role.

It starts with the tragedy of parents whose son was a pilot and died during the World War II, it was Rezo’s uncle. Then the film connects the scenes from Rezo’s childhood and his imagination with the atmosphere of the post-war USSR (and Georgia as the part of it) living in misery and propaganda.

He talks about the aggression everywhere after the war: the orphans (there are a lot of them) try to hit little Rezo, adults on the street try to do the same, and even the people carrying the coffin want to kick the boy running past. At the same time people are scared by everything: weather, Germans, even the young thin man with a scar.

Portraits of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin at school also inspired fear in little Rezo. He imagined Lenin as a radical and cruel person, Stalin, definitely thanks to propaganda, as more fair and reasonable one. At the same time the photo of Molotov in the newspaper on the wall in the grandparents’ house was funny to him.

Speaking of prisoners of war, former German soldiers, it is worth saying that at first they are shown as a ragged and wounded group of people, which gives Rezo an unpleasant impression. Then one of the Germans is obliged to work for his grandparents, help them around the house, and the grandfather has a negative attitude towards the German, which looks natural just after the war, while the grandmother little by little accepts the German, the same young man as her son who died in the war. Later Rezo shows how the Germans turned their living area fenced with barbed wire into a blooming garden, where they played classical music, while his grandparents did not know that it was possible to have a toilet in the house. He pronounces the phrase which means: “Who lives behind the barbed wire? Them or us?…”

Rezo seems to be describing real life, far from the “black and white” picture of Soviet propaganda, where there is a clear division into “good” and “bad”. А happy summer in a dark, uncomfortable house with grandparents who love each other very much, and also with a German who respects them very much and tries to do everything possible to make their life easier, he compares it with life in the town, which is more comfortable, it has posters on the streets and festive demonstrations, glorifying Stalin and also a feeling of total loneliness. After all, Rezo’s only friend is a burnt library rat.

The child’s view slowly becomes the artist’s view from the very beginning. Little Rezo “lives” in the books he is reading, he is always dreaming and all his feelings reflect in his imagination. For example his negative attitude to Hitler turns into dreams about the battles. Then his attitude to the Germans, who live in the same village as his grandparents is positive in general, little Rezo doesn’t associate the people who can make the territory around them very cozy and comfortable with the disaster of the war with all destruction that it provokes.

He helps a young man with a scar, who he, like everyone else, is afraid of, and from that moment Rezo himself counts his creative journey. All the knowledge, experiences and impressions that the schoolboy took from books and a little from his real life end up in a letter addressed to the “beautiful lady.”

When Rezo Gabriadze, as an elderly man, looks at all this and tells his way to the audience, his story is humorous and very warm, but quite sober about the political situation and people’s life at the same time. He does not want to idealize the country and time, he does not idealize life, but he talks about his inspiration, compares the native nature with ballet sets that were spoiled by “inappropriate” buildings, jokes a lot and even sings at the end of the film.

The meaning of the music here is also about inspiration, because the viewers can hear both the classical music which means education and taste and the Georgian traditional music that turns Rezo to his roots and the child’s song “Do you know, mom, where I have been?” which gave the original title to the film sends everyone to childhood and makes feel a little nostalgic.

When at the premiere of the film Leo Gabriadze said: “I conceived this film, first of all, for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren...” He was absolutely right, because this film was made very tenderly, but it shows not only the imagination of a little boy, but also some truth about the life of the country, completely different from the footage from the official cinema of that time.

Text: Julia Sumzina

The stills and the trailer are from the open sources.

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