To wrestle God

IF the glove fits … Kakhi (Levan Tedaishvili) accepts a gift from his son, Soso (Giorgi Tabidze) in a scene from ‘Brighton 4th’ on the European Film Festival in South Africa until the end of October. Photograph courtesy

WHAT WOULD YOU give to keep the dignity of your child intact? This is one of the central premises to Levan Koguashvili’s magnificent film Brighton 4th, a tale woven through the vagaries and indignities of immigrant culture, the unrelenting potency of gambling debt and the chequered messiness of old age. It is unequivocally one of the best works in this year’s European Film Festival which, designed to be hybrid, offers limited screenings and online access in Johannesburg and Cape Town, until 23 October, Mbabane between 21 and 23 October and Maseru, between 28 and 30 October.

Conjoined with a Faustian pact with the universe, Brighton 4th is a story about wrestling. But far from a simple sports narrative, it is a work that confronts the idiosyncrasies of the elderly head-on. At times, it feels like you are sitting in the contemporary presence of a Dostoevsky tale with its increasing levels of dark absurdity cast against pathos. At other times, it is like a glance at the epicentre of classical Greek narrative where the powers that be give and take and do not respond with delicacy to challenges cast in their direction.

But more than all of this, with cinematography that will have you weeping through its wisdom to contain and display an understanding of beauty, flawed and human and astonishing all at once, this is a film which makes you wish to hold onto every still and drink it up to completion. Whether you are looking at two elderly women smoking at a bus stop, or our protagonist and his son against a window besmirched with graffiti, a couple well into their dotage – one demented, the other disabled – or a room full of soccer fans, you are beset with the rich texture and complex visual magnificence of everything. You are in the trusted hands of a superb cinematographer.

And it is here where you get to meet Kakhi (Levan Tedaishvili) and his wife (Laura Rekhviashvili), their son Soso (Giorgi Tabidze), a medical student and their dog ‘Buddy’, a beautiful Alsatian. They are Georgian. The son is a recent immigrant to Brighton Beach, a neighbourhood in the south of Brooklyn, New York. Language is an issue. Paid work is, too. And marriage for the sake of a Green Card, seems to be the panacea to everything.  

This work is not, however as simple as that. There are narrative lines which criss-cross one another and touch on issues as bold and relevant as an epileptic woman labourer who is exploited, the diminution of one’s status to climb into a bunk bed in a pension for woe-begotten adults, and an itinerant opera singer, played by Kakhi Kavsadze, with no opera to sing but a heart full of an ability to give.

And then, there is Farik, the Kazakh miscreant employer. Played by Tolepbergen Baisakalov in a cameo, this character offers an understanding of how to draw three-dimensional lines into a tiny role. He’s the bad guy until he reveals his own tale and dances and sings with the men over a glass of schnapps that evens everything out. Personalities in this film are constructed with an edge that never allows them to be two-dimensional. It evokes the storytelling vision in the classic HBO series Oz.

Brighton 4th, in its concatenation of stories and values makes you feel as though you are sitting inside a painting by Max Beckmann or a novel by Franz Kafka with its absurd and terrifying juxtapositions, that should be laughable, but aren’t. But it is also like the last scene in Michael Cacoyannis’s 1964 film of Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek, where the ultimate gestures associated with dance (or fight) become a paean to existence. If you see a handful of films in this year’s festival, make sure this one is part of that choice.

Brighton 4th is directed by Levan Koguashvili and features a cast headed by Tolepbergen Baisakalov, Vsevolod Berkolayko, Mary Caputo, Artur Dubetskiy, Irma Gachechiladze, Lew Gardner, Temur Gyalia, Tsutsa Kapanadze, Aleksandr Karlov, Irakli Kavsadze, Kakhi Kavsadze, Giorgi Kipshidze, Nadezhda Mikhalkova, Laura Rekhviashvili, Giorgi Tabidze, Levan Tedaishvili and Yuri Zur. Written by Boris Frumin, it is produced by Levan Koguashvili, Irakli Rodonava and Olena Yershova and features creative input by Phedon Papamichael (cinematography), Elene Asatiani, Sasha Frumin, Davit Kiknadze and Mykola Metin (editing) and Eka Bichinashvili (costumes). In Georgian, Russian and English with English subtitles, it is part of the 9thEuropean Film Festival South Africa, screening in Johannesburg, Cape Town and online, until 23 October 2022; and Mbabane at the Alliance Française, 21-23 October and Maseru at the Alliance Française, 28-30 October

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