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Critique : Magic Mountain


- Le documentaire de Mariam Chachia et Nik Voigt a été tourné dans le sanatorium pour les tuberculeux d'Abastumani, qui sert de microcosme cauchemardesque pour représenter l'histoire de la Géorgie

Critique : Magic Mountain

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

When she contracted tuberculosis, Georgian filmmaker Mariam Chachia was first told of the Abastumani sanatorium in the south-west of her home country, specifically for the cure-resistant form of the disease. Luckily, she beat it with medicine, but the idea of ending up alone in such an isolated place gave her nightmares. So she went to make a film about it, together with her life partner and co-director, Nik Voigt. Even though Magic Mountain [+lire aussi :
interview : Mariam Chachia, Nik Voigt
fiche film
is clearly named after Thomas Mann's famous novel, its oneiric, haunting atmosphere is reminiscent of Wojciech Has's The Hourglass Sanatorium. After its world premiere at DOK.fest Munich, the film recently won the Best Documentary Award at DocsBarcelona.

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Nestled among the rich array of pine trees on the southern slopes of the snow-covered Meskheti mountain range, not far from a Romanov palace, is the large structure of Abastumani, with its crumbling facades and deserted wings dotted with windowless holes through which torn curtains flutter. Inside, curving corridors circle spacious rooms with high, elegantly decorated ceilings, sturdy chandeliers and neo-classical columns, paling hardwood floors and tatters of tastefully matched wallpapers, contrasting with the cracked, grey-white walls of the patients’ quarters. These are often peppered with Georgian Orthodox Christian icons that look down on furniture from different eras and in various states of disrepair.

Here the patients dwell, sitting around backgammon boards or shivering with fever in beds under crumpled blankets. Their ages vary from late twenties to early eighties, and they receive different amounts of the film's focus. A good-humoured, down-to-earth old man shares his testimony focusing on the women in his life, a lady who refuses to take her drugs (in her voice-over, Chachia explains how brutal their side effects are) only passes through like an apparition, while her shambling, alcoholic thirty-something brother is a disruptive presence with his aggressive drive to dominate others. A melancholic priest (and former robber) with a non-functioning liver and a limp is juxtaposed with a distressed man whose fever never goes down.

During the day, they are treated by Soviet-era doctors who chide them for smoking and nudge them to eat the food prepared in large pots by plump women who happily smile at the camera. At night, with the doctors and most of the nurses gone, the place turns into a riot of drinking and debauchery, with infantile and sometimes violent games building on the underlying, feverish frenzy.

Chachia herself enters and leaves the scene from time to time, listening to their experiences and opinions, and immerses us in this ghostly, isolated world, while her own story and musings on memory and history come from her voice-over. Together with Voigt, who is also the cinematographer and co-editor, she starts from her intimate view and builds it into a nightmarish microcosm that encapsulates Georgia’s illustrious pre-USSR history, the Soviet era and the often absurdly fluctuating mutant condition that the country has been in since its independence. This last point is exemplified by the fact that an oligarch has bought Abastumani to tear it down and build himself another property in its spectacular location.

Voigt’s camera work is both perceptive and reactive, confidently taking in the wide picture, closing in on the patients' bizarre antics and picking out symbolic details. On top of that, it is the atmospheric music and sound design that push the picture into a different dimension. Distant footsteps, creaking floors and the slamming of doors that seem to echo from another world take the viewer to an elevated – or submerged – level several steps removed from reality.

Magic Mountain is a co-production by Georgia's Opydoc and Poland’s Telewizja Polska.

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(Traduit de l'anglais)

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