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Repentance reaches beyond the earlier films toward a general sense of terror in the face of evil, embodied by Varlam Aravidze, that is, "Varlam No Man" or, perhaps, "Varlam Everyman". Time and place are confused, references and citations from world'art and literature aim at an international language and universal set of symbols, yet the particular details of the film bring the viewer back to the first two films in the trilogy and, by extension, to specifically Georgian concerns, to questions of Georgian history, and to hopes for the Georgian future. Repentance is both universal and narrowly national, a combination for which Abuladze is well-known. Repentance opens with two very Georgian scenes. The first presents a handsome, sad-eyed woman decorating cakes with tiny cathedrals and selling them privately (witness to the Georgian formal table, the celebration of Georgian customs, the on-going respect for the church as a national symbo!, and the initiative of the disenfranchised intelligentsia). The second presents Varlam's funeral, with mounds of fresh flowers, an open casket, and obligatory visits to the deceased's home and family to pay last respects. Every detail-from the faces at the funeral to the envelope of money passed to the son of the deceased, now head of the family, to the song "Samshoblo," the anthem of free Menshevik Georgia-is clearly and typically Georgian.
Varlam's funeral is something of a joke originally; it includes the recitation of a poem comparing death with a somersault into eternity and praise for Varlam who could "turn any friend into an enemy and any enemy into a friend." No wonder such a creature turns up again, leaning casually against a tree to frighten his son and daughter-in-law, who had just as casually tossed the
old man's portrait up onto a wardrobe with the "alley-oop" that marks Varlam's exit from the homes of his victims and his own somersault into eternity. Despite the farcical situation, however, Varlam's funeral and the trial that follows serve as the structural framework of the film and together support the Georgian text, which picks up and develops themes from The Prayer and Tree of Desire. Death and the grave, the "Great Father," blood of the past and hope for the future, beauty (the beloved), Satan, and the Last Judgment are the central figures in what might be called an ahistorical morality play.
In Repentance, the reappearance of the corpse of Varlam Aravidze is eventually attributed to Keti Barateli, the daughter of one of Aravidze's victims. Keti's continued attempts to exhume Varlam, and the trial, in which she explains her reasons for denying the corpse a proper Christian burial, lead to the final and passionate moment when Abel Aravidze, son of Varlam, tosses his father's body over a cliff to the carrion, breaking one of the strongest taboos of his people and nation. Veneration and remembrance of the dead lie at the core of basic Georgian traditions and values, the cornerstone of their historic survival.
Furthermore, respect for the dead and the grave are central themes in Abuladze's trilogy. The Prayer (which Abuladze calls the philosophical introduction and conclusion of the trilogy) opens with a recitation of the title poem, Vazha Pshavela's "Cemi vedreba". The poem acknowledges the symbolic importance of the grave for Georgian sense of self and national memory:
Oh, Lord, hear my prayer, . .
If I bring forth no fruit
Let my sons never damn
My grave.
Recent articles in the new Georgian press return to this poem as inspiration and underline the same theme:
How to live in this world built on force, falsehood and hypocrisy, . . . how to resist, in a moment of weakness, the temptation to join the "lions" in the hope of sitting at their predator's feast. . . . How to live that our heirs will not be ashamed of our name and will not abandon our graves?"
Abuladze's Prayer continues with cinematic illustrations of two epic poems by Vazha Pshavela which circle around the theme of death and the grave, "Aluda Ketelauri" and "The Host and the Guest." In the first epic, the hero Aluda, a Christian, refuses to cut off the right hand of an enemy he has slain in battle and even offers a blood sacrifice for the eternal peace of his spirit. In the second epic, the Muslim hero, Joqola, refuses to break an age-old tradition of defending a guest in his home even after learning that his guest, Zviadauri, is a renowned Christian warrior. Defended by Joqola but overpowered by the other Muslims, Zviadauri is sacrificed on the graves of his victims. But his heroism, which never fails, eveff with knife at his throat, wins him respect in the eyes of the heroine, Agaza, Joqola's wife. She faces tribal judgment, terrifying spirits at the graveyard, and her own husband's possible jealous wrath to protect the corpse of Zviadauri from predators, an action which is acknowledged as proper treatment of the heroic dead, which is woman's role.
Burying and respect for the dead play a pivotal role in Tree of Desire, the second film in Abuladze's trilogy. In the literary source of the film, Georgii Leonidze's memoirs in poetic prose titled I n the Shade of Forgotten Ancestors, the theme is incarnated and expounded by Chorekhi, "lover of Georgian history":
Our ancestors, Georgians, saw the yoke of many conquerors-Egyptian, Macedonian, Roman, Greek, Persian, Turk, Chingiz and Timur, but no one could conquer their spirit or their love for their land. Plagued by misfortune, they overcame all; hounded by enemies, they threw them off and forged eternal glory forever and ever. "If I forget you, Jerusalem, forget me, my right hand!"-that was our first pledge to our country.-"Kiss your native land! And we kissed it.-"Bow down to the remains of the past!" And we sank to our knees and worshipped the mossy boulders of an ancient cathedral or fortress.
In Leonidze's memoirs, the beautiful heroine Marita is humiliated and exiled from her village for seeing her girlhood love.2' Her burial years later is marked by "darkened heavens," "moving mountains," and "no rain for a whole year afterward. . . ." To assuage their guilt in Marita's sad fate, the villagers turn her into a local legend, a "star in the sky, beloved of Christ."In Abuladze's film version, Marita is hung and left dead in the mud, mourned only by her grandmother (played by Veriko Anjaparidze). The shot of Marita's abandoned corpse is a clear statement by the film director about changing times and changing values.
In traditional Georgian culture, life does not end with a slit throat or a broken neck. The dead are protected, remembered, and avenged. The past and its remains are holy. In Repentance, Keti Barateli, a Georgian woman, denies Varlam proper treatment of a dead hero and violates his grave. To prove that her actions have not violated this proscription, Keti Barateli must prove Varlam worthy of treatment which only Satan or a great villain could deserve. Keti Barateli's trial, a stylized montage of anachronisms, cliched symbols, metaphor and allegory, is a cinematic pre-enactment of the Last Judgment, in which Keti's defense depends upon a guilty verdict for her victim-Varlam, father to Abel, grandfather to Tornike, and "great father" to his nation.
Date Added: 11/11/2012 by Eiko M
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