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KARLOVY VARY 2023 Competition

Tinatin Kajrishvili • Director of Citizen Saint

“People act selfish and fearful, and this can be applied to both society and individuals”

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- The Georgian director dives right into our beliefs and hopes in her latest, touching film set in a mining community

Tinatin Kajrishvili • Director of Citizen Saint

In her touching Karlovy Vary competition entry Citizen Saint [+see also:
film review
interview: Tinatin Kajrishvili
film profile
]
– awarded the Commendation of the Ecumenical Jury (see the news) – Georgian director Tinatin Kajrishvili takes a look at what would happen if a saint, a god, were to one day abandon his cross and face his worshippers. Apparently, nothing good – at least according to miners in a small town, suddenly deprived of their only protector.

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Cineuropa: The visual side of Citizen Saint actually makes sense, given this story of a mining town. Did you often talk to your DoP about how “dark” you could go?
Tinatin Kajrishvili:
Actually, I was inspired by these people. They really live half of their life underground – even the monks from the local churches. They are very brave and modest at the same time; they face death every day, but still approach their lives with humour. If you remember the scene where the miners sing for the Saint, celebrating him, they are all real. There is not a single actor there, apart from the one playing the Saint himself [George Babluani]. When we were explaining the scene to them [the film was lensed by Krum Rodriguez], they were very inspired. Later, they offered to prepare us a Georgian-style feast with their own food, which they brought from home. This was very touching to me.

The way you approach spirituality here, it feels like pagan elements meet organised religion, as proven by one sequence when a couple doesn’t want to offer their animal to the church – it’s for the Saint!
I wanted to mix different methods of worship. Some we consider to be normal, as we are used to them already, while some we find rather disturbing. I guess this film is more about our beliefs and hopes, not about pursuing a certain religion.

In a way, it’s a dispiriting look at humanity. When faced with an actual miracle – or at least that’s the idea – we are afraid of it or act selfishly.
We all believe in miracles, but we impose limits on it according to our own merits. Yes, people may be afraid and act selfishly; this can be applied to both society and individuals, as I tried not to separate them too much. That’s one of the reasons why the Saint is mute. When miners talk to him and they are not getting any answers, they just come up with the answer that comforts them the most. They pretend, or believe, that it really came from him.

Sometimes it feels like a film from the 1960s. There is something very retro about it, but also something timely about their fear. They are afraid of being alone, of losing their only protection.
It’s a film about fears, hopes and beliefs, so of course I cannot separate this from today’s world. That being said, as the subject of the film feels timeless to me, I tried to depict its world in the same manner. 

What did you want from your actors this time? What they do is always very subtle.
Most of them were in my previous films, too. Mari Kitia was a lead in Brides [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Tinatin Kajrishvili
film profile
]
, Giorgi Bochorishvili was in Horizon [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Tinatin Kajrishvili
film profile
]
– as well as the couple with the sheep you just mentioned. We have known each other for a long time; we trust each other and allow ourselves to go as far as we can. I love to mix actors and local people in films. But my actors became so used to real mines that it was difficult to define who was who. All of the crew members were dressed in mining outfits, and they act in the film, too – the ones you get to see the most are my production designer with all his assistants.

You say that the subject of the film feels “timeless” to you. Is this something you are interested in, as a filmmaker? Telling timeless stories?
I prefer to avoid things that indicate actual time. Visually, they are just not appealing to me. I feel more connected to the things that bear traces of life. In Georgia, we are still spoilt this way: we can find locations or objects that carry this charm of the past.

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