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WRITER-DIRECTOR DOVER KOSASHVILI WASN'T TOO SURE THAT HIS FIRST movie, Late Marriage -- a romantic comedy about a bunch of Georgians talking, mostly in Georgian, in overstuffed Tel Aviv apartments -- would fly with an Israeli public known for its love of big Hollywood action pictures. So the director was thrilled that the film did brisk business at home, was selected as Israel's submission for Best Foreign Film at this year's Academy Awards, and is enjoying excellent notices and word of mouth in the West, where it opens this week.
Kosashvili's Georgian compatriots weren't quite so thrilled. Many complained that Late Marriage, which lovingly lampoons the superstitions of Georgian-Israelis, represented that community too harshly. The mostly proletarian Georgians were met with scant respect when they arrived in droves from the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. "They've swallowed this idea that they are inferior," says the shaggy, 36-year-old Kosashvili, who came to Israel with his parents when he was 6. "If you show what's going on in the community, they think you're showing they're inferior." They were also less than delighted by a long sex scene at the center of the film. Kosashvili laughs appreciatively. "They said, 'Okay, you're doing a movie about our community, but -- 12 minutes with the balls out?'"
The love story between a Georgian philosophy student and a Moroccan divorcée in Late Marriage drew on an affair that Kosashvili, who studied philosophy and cinema at Tel Aviv University, had with a woman who, at a critical point in their relationship, told him a story about a Moroccan friend of hers. In the story, the woman was in love with a Georgian whose parents broke into her home and separated the lovebirds on the grounds that a divorcée, never mind one from a different ethnic group, was used goods. Only after Kosashvili had completed his script did he realize that his lover had made up the tale to impress upon him her anxiety about the future of their relationship. Still, the director rejects the notion that Late Marriage is a classic story about the clash between love and tradition. The romantic ideal, he argues, is its own kind of tradition, and not always the most useful one. "It seems to me that to look at life in terms of love is to see things in a crazy way," says Kosashvili. "It's not reality. Reality doesn't say to you, 'You have to love her.' That's your madness." Conversely, in every tradition there is also love. "So you can say it's a clash between loves of different kinds."
Indeed, Late Marriage, though hardly dispassionate, assiduously avoids passing judgment on any of its characters, all of whom are desperately trying to bend the world into conformity with their own narratives and superstitions. "These are the stories we tell ourselves," says Kosashvili. "Otherwise, who are we?" For Kosashvili, moviemaking is just such a struggle, an attempt to make the world try to look more like we want it to -- there's no master narrative that guides our lives. Which may be why the director resists the notion that he was meant to become a filmmaker, or that it happened through some inevitable causal chain. "I always joke that I got into cinema because I wanted to be with beautiful actresses," he says. "But one quickly discovers that actresses are not normal people." Not even Lili Kosashvili, who never acted a day in her life but stars as the protagonist's ferociously protective mother in Late Marriage? Dover Kosashvili gives me a dark look. "Never cast your mother," he says.