Among other things, the new Georgian film Brighton 4th might just be the best foreign film ever made about Brooklyn. But it feels right at home, because just as “America” has never been particularly American, Brooklyn has always been a Babel of elsewheres, and it’s hardly noticeable that hardly ever in Levan Koguashvili’s affectionate, deadpan movie do we glimpse a single homegrown Brooklynite. What we do get, in rich, fertile chunks, is a portrait of huddling, paunchy, life-wearied emigres, mostly Georgian but with a few Uzbeks and Kazakhs as well, effortlessly carrying the folk traditions, post-Soviet toughness, low-rent vices, and gangster honor codes of their old world.

If you’ve never been to Brighton Beach, in winter, now you have; Koguashvili’s anthropological attention to detail is faultless. Still, we begin in Tblisi, where a near-brawl at a bar during a televised football match segues to the path of Kakhi (Levan Tedaishvili), a watchful, grizzled old codger and locally famous ex-wrestler, built like a fire plug and possessed of a calm gravitas everybody instinctively respects. He’s already planning a trip to America, leaving his ailing wife behind and packing a few wheels of Georgian market cheese to America, where his son is apparently floundering.

Details are scarce until we arrive in Brooklyn, sizing it up in all its messiness from the car window, as Kakhi is driven from the airport in what we eventually see is a hearse. Fellow Georgians (including his sister, played with thorny brio by first-timer Irma Gachechiladze) envelop him, and Koguashavili happily favors texture over plotting, as we dally, hear songs, investigate relationships. Eventually, we meet Kakhi’s son Soso (Giorgi Tabidze), a med student who’s drowning in gambling debt owed to local gangsters.

We suspect Kakhi’s already trying to figure out how the situation can be remedied, using old-school strategies, but we’re not told. (Kakhi is always stretching and massaging others, as if he’s still training.) Instead, the film’s canvas goes wide, roping in a detour to kidnap a sneaky Kazakh (Tolepbergen Baisakalov), who ripped off a gaggle of Georgian hotel cleaners, and who, it turns out, had to send the money back home to his cancer-ridden father. Every story opens onto other stories.

And then there are the gangsters, an elderly funeral singer, sundry other boarding house residents and grifters, and Soso’s lovely, green-card-seeking Russian fiancee, Lena (Nadia Mikhalkova, whom you may remember as the searingly adorable 8-year-old daughter in her father Nikita Milkhalkov’s 1994 Oscar-winner Burnt by the Sun). Eventually, Kakhi brings his own legacy to bear, climaxing with a man-to-man face-off on the chilly beach.

Fabulously, it’s a film full of old, or older, people who have vibrant, busy, capable lives, even if that means the final stroke, however moving and expertly observed by the filmmakers, is a tad obligatory. Never mind– it’s a bracing day trip to the southern shore, with a vast network of hypnotically authentic characters, all displaced but affable, often irate but life-loving, in that workaday urban manner movies ordinarily can’t nail down. Tellingly, the film – Kogaushvili’s fifth – was co-produced by Alice Austen and Kirill Mikhanovsky, the writer and director of 2019’s similarly rangy Soviet-immigrants comedy Give Me Liberty. The two movies share a love for organic, unsentimental polyglot coexistence that’s invigorating.

Still, this is a Georgian film through and through. Austen aside, there’s no top-end credit that’s not Georgian or otherwise ex-Soviet. Brighton 4th shows up in festivals and on stateside screens alongside Alexandre Koberidze’s What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? and Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning, all within a year of each other. We’ll be optimistic, in the spirit of the film, and call it a new New Wave Georgian onslaught. We deserve it.

Read more of Michael Atkinson’s reviews here.

 

LA Weekly