Name: Nele Volbruck

Nationality: Estonia


"Dede" by Mariam Khatchvani (GE, QA, IE, NL, HR)

KVIFF - Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2017 - East of the West (Competition)

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C. Photo Credit: Dede ​(2017)

Traditions have the capacity to provide a soothing sense of security, belonging and identity, through offering understanding of ancestry. But what if these traditions, rooted deep in everyday life, profess your voice to be worthless instead? Dede  aims to voice the sufferings of countless Georgian women, whose free will is deemed insignificant in the face of tradition.

Georgian director Mariam Khatchvani’s feature debut premiering at the 52nd Karlovy Vary Film Festival is a counterpart to her excellent 2013 short film  Dinola that picked up a nomination for the Best Short at the European Film Awards. They essentially tell the same story from different perspective. A story close to Khatchvani’s heart, her grandmother’s personal life experience set in her home village.

Located in Svaneti, a historic Georgian province inhabited by Svans, an ethnic Georgian subgroup, is the village of Ushguli, where the pace of life hinges on the nature’s cycle and customs lead the day-to-day happenings. The outside world is so far removed it holds next to no influence. The gender roles are set to stone, with men prone to violence, clutching the guns that they use without much restraint, and women tending to various household matters.

When the family decides that young and beautiful Dina has to marry David, a decent man in the eyes of the locals, her feelings for someone else are perceived as an offensive temper tantrum best kept to herself. Gegi, the significant someone, is a handsome war friend of the future groom. Dina, showing courage unheard-of, remains firm. The consequences are startling however, resulting in bloodshed.

Dede starts off as a quintessential love triangle, but shifts gradually into social comment. Dina manages to experience a moment of happiness, only to lose everything. She becomes a widow and due to the local tradition, she is obliged to marry the first man who expresses the wish to take her. The woman has to leave behind her child - an embarrassing offence to the family of the deceased to do otherwise. A practice that makes it difficult to sympathise with the other side.

The film doesn’t stop at an implication that women are held accountable for all the harm in the Svanetian culture; it is also expressed in dialogue. „It’s your fault. You women are always guilty!,“ exclaims a man to Dina. Regrettably, the tenet lies within women as well.

Dede is not about the hardships of a single person, but talks about the practices, beliefs and identity of a whole regional subculture. Khatchvani succeeds in making that point, depicting the harsh realities through visually appealing and well thought out aesthetics, highlighted by intimate shots and clever camera work. Khatchvani’s goal is to show the audience a more meaningful grasp of her birthplace, in addition to Dina’s tale.

Even though the film’s tempo is slow, even dragging at times, Dede manages to develop a rhythm. Narrative scenes alternate with captivating shots of the mighty Caucasus and depictions of distinctive traditional practices, like a dirge, or the rite of sacrifice to assure fortune in future wars. Khatchvani’s experience as a documentarist shines through. She has adopted a realistic approach in pursuit of authenticity, and manned the actors bench with local people who have no background in acting. The only professional actor George Babluani (playing Gegi) stands out indeed. The rest of the acting is distant and often notably stiff. The shaky nuances might however come across as markers of how oppressed these characters truly are. Even the most abusive men in the film were clearly hungry for love and affection. Although Dede delivers some surprises and wins, it leaves you wondering about the everlasting questions of right and wrong, as it concludes with a bleak and dismal outlook on life. Nevertheless, the viewer has to endure the hardships only for 97 minutes, as opposed to a lifetime.