Beginning review – shocking but shallow tale of religion and bigotry

This is the much-admired feature debut of Georgian director Dea Kulumbegashvili, part of the official selection for last year’s cancelled Cannes film festival, where it might well have been a shock-cinema talking point had the event gone ahead. It is co-produced by the Mexican film-maker Carlos Reygadas, whose influence is very apparent, and the movie as a whole is an intensely, indeed overbearingly, curated and controlled experience. It is a succession of disquieting tableaux, shot mainly from fixed camera positions in which the relevant action can be happening very far away, and one of the speakers can be off-camera for long periods: a cinema in the high style of Haneke, Farhadi and Kiarostami.

Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili) and David (Rati Oneli, the co-writer) are a devout Jehovah’s Witness couple with a child who preside over a newly-built prayer house in a remote community. When a religious meeting is firebombed by bigoted locals, David makes an official complaint to the (equally bigoted) police about their marked lack of effort or interest in finding the culprits, and makes a trip to Tbilisi to discuss matters with community elders. Meanwhile, Yana is left behind and is menaced and assaulted by someone claiming to be a cop.

The central rape scene is very disturbingly shot and there is also what I admit is a potent final sequence, imagining some kind of retribution or spiritual degradation happening to the assailant in geological time. But there is something inert and frankly shallow in the film: a refrigerated mannerism in which rape and religious beliefs are both kinds of arthouse artefact, not made any more authentic or compelling by the suggestions of Yana’s own ambiguous attitude to what has just happened.

Kulumbegashvili’s style is confident, if derivative. Her technique now has to evolve away from these self-conscious influences.

Beginning is available on Mubi from 29 January.







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