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IFFR 2023 Big Screen Competition

Review: Drawing Lots


- Late Georgian director Zaza Khalvashi's last film, completed by his daughter Tamta, gives a snapshot of community life in the Black Sea city of Batumi

Review: Drawing Lots

The Georgian coastal city of Batumi is no Odesa, but it carries its own weight of tumultuous Black Sea history. Today, it is split between the new-money, investment-rich south-eastern part close to the Turkish border, with its steel-and-glass towers, luxury hotels and casinos, and the poorer north-western part, inhabited by regular people. A usual living arrangement is a bunch of houses of different sizes, types, ages and states of decrepitude surrounding a common courtyard. It is in one of these communities that the last film by Georgian director Zaza Khalvashi, Drawing Lots [+see also:
film profile
, takes place.

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World-premiering in IFFR’s Big Screen Competition, the film was still in production when Khalvashi died in 2020, and it was completed by his daughter Tamta Khalvashi (credited as the co-director), cinematographer Giorgi Shvelidze and editor Levan Kukhashvili.

Even though it was shot in black and white, the film takes an approach reminiscent of Fellini's Amarcord: there are many characters with many different stories that often overlap, but the filmmakers do not delve deep into any of them. Rather, they create a snapshot of how this close-knit community lives. The film opens with a young man playing a mean electric guitar on his balcony, and when we see the computer monitor displaying images from four surveillance cameras in the room of an old man waking up in the house across the way, we realise it's 7.30 in the morning.

Off camera, an apparently immobile husband or father is screaming at a middle-aged woman to bring him food. A violinist is carefully putting on his black suit before he goes into the living room and finds two older people asleep in front of the TV, and then enters the kitchen where two youngsters are sleeping at the table. Their relationship remains unclear, as do those of many other characters. A man returns from prison to threaten a woman of a business-like air, looking for the money her father apparently stole. An aloof, middle-aged couple is surprised when they hear that the father's driver married their daughter. A biker is chased away by an angry mother as he brings flowers for her daughter.

The name of the film comes from the lotto-like game played mostly by women in the courtyard during the day. There is chatter, joviality, drinking and food; besides Georgian, we also hear Russian. Most of the time, the camera slowly pans and floats between the protagonists, through doorways, hallways and rooms, sometimes enigmatically stopping to show us a family having a meal.

Among all the stories that we only get glimpses of, there is just one that really connects with and engages the viewer: a young teenage boy has an intense crush on the neighbourhood bombshell (who appears to have an over-protective and alcoholic partner, but we barely even see his face). The dramatic development will take the members of the community to the beach, in another echo of Amarcord, and gives the film a dynamic uplift from its dreamy, meandering atmosphere, but on the other hand, it emphasises the lack of emotional involvement.

But even if the viewer does not necessarily connect with any of the individual characters, they will have been immersed in the community's way of life. The film leaves a satisfying impression overall, creating an elegant structure out of what could have been a disjointed mess in the hands of less-seasoned filmmakers, not least thanks to Kukhashvili's editing and Dutch composer Minco Eggersman's score.

Drawing Lots is a co-production by Georgia's Bafis and Lithuania's Tremora. Vienna-based EastWest Filmdistribution has the international rights.

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