Corn Island: Life on a sometimes-still river
by Domenico La Porta
- Unveiled as a world premiere in competition at the KVIFF, Corn Island has proved to be just as successful as it was apparently difficult to produce. A little gem by Georgian director George Ovashvili
On the river that forms the natural and disputed border between Abkhazia and Georgia, drifting islands are created and broken apart at the mercy of the seasons and the whims of the elements. In cycles, local farmers move onto these small, fertile islands in order to grow what they need to survive the winter – but there are myriad dangers. And while these dangers are not armed conflicts, it is in fact nature that threatens to reclaim its rights and unleash the power of the river at any moment. It is against this backdrop that a grandfather and his granddaughter attempt to tame the river in the second film by Georgian filmmaker George Ovashvili. Corn Island [+see also:
interview: George Ovashvili
film profile] has seen the light of day thanks to a complicated co-production structure involving Georgia, Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan and Hungary. Luckily, this movie, which was extremely difficult to film, is just as gratifying for the members of the creative team behind it, who came from 13 different countries. Unveiled at Karlovy Vary, Corn Island has risen straight to the top as the jewel in the crown of the Official Competition.
The dialogue is sparse, but unlike Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring by Kim Ki-duk, which has a great many elements in common with this work, the camera is hardly ever still, and this dynamism turns the meditative expectations typically associated with this type of story completely on their heads. The cinematography by Elemér Ragalyi is absolutely breathtaking, and some of the shots, particularly during the torrential rain, exude an impressive realism. The movie is not that far removed from a documentary filmed under extreme conditions, and when you discover that the film’s crew created the island from scratch, you can appreciate all the more the incredible work done by Ariunsaichan Dawaashu, the production designer who was in charge of recreating each season in an environment that was already very difficult to film in. The realism is astounding and in no way jeopardises the aesthetics of Corn Island’s graphic and narrative poetry. The film is shot in 35 mm, which only adds to its beauty.
A realistic parable on the cycle of life, Corn Island is nevertheless not blind to the political situation in this region scarred by an ethnic conflict that has been raging for over 20 years. The farming fable is constantly threatened by distant gunshots, the savage mockery of the soldiers on the riverbank and passing military motorboat patrols. There is not a huge difference between the clash of generations depicted by the grandfather and his young, blossoming ingénue and the clash between the opposing armed forces: everyone stays silent or speaks their own language, so no one can understand each other.
Though the director does not judge his characters, and though he pretends not to take sides, it’s Mother Nature who deals out justice when she arbitrarily decides to wipe the slate clean for everyone.
(Translated from French)