KVIFF 2017 Review: ‘Khibula’ a Poetic Account of Georgia’s First President
“How many times must we run?” says Zviad Gamsakhurdia (portrayed by Hossein Mahjoub), the first democratically elected president of Georgia, towards the end of Khibula.
We can relate. For the duration of the film up to this point, Gamsakhurdia and a dwindling band of guards and supporters have been following a roundabout journey through the Georgian wilderness, stopping overnight at an isolated village home.
The next morning (or soon thereafter), with opposition forces on their trail, they must again flee into the woods surrounding the Caucasus Mountains. Rinse and repeat.
Gamsakhurdia must flee the country, or so everyone keeps telling him: his guards, the prime minister (played by Qishvard Manvelishvili), villagers he comes across, “friends’ from the former Soviet Union. For his survival, and the good of the nation. Even the radio reports continually comment upon his flight from the country.
But the president refuses to leave. He brought conflict into his country when he came into office, and the only solution he sees to right previous wrongs is to remain.
A little historical detail, sparsely presented primarily through beginning and ending title scrawls, might help viewers unfamiliar with Georgian political history get a better picture of what’s transpiring.
After the fall of Soviet rule in Georgia, dissident activist and writer Gamsakhurdia became the first president of Georgia to be elected by popular vote. Looking at his background, similarities might be drawn to the Czech Republic’s Václav Havel.
But Gamsakhurdia’s time in office was considerably different to Havel’s. Accused of human rights violations in foreign press and of dictatorial practices at home, opposition forces quickly rose up and drove the president out of Georgia.
In 1993, however, Gamsakhurdia returned to the country for what resulted in civil war. After his supporters were defeated, the president and a small band of guards were driven into the wilderness. Khibula recounts these final days in Georgia in late 1993, when he refused to flee again.
By the end, he’s simply tired of running.
Dramatically, Khibula feels somewhat inert: we are inherently aware of where this is all heading, and so (it seems) is the lead character. The literal journey here is perfunctory, but there’s a spiritual one with more to offer.
The repetitive, roundabout nature of the film captures an insightful look not only into the lead character, but the rural Georgian landscape and the people that surround him. You’ll need to read between the lines, but patient viewers will find a lot here in-between everything that’s left unsaid.
Director George Ovashvili finds great poetry in the president’s plight, and every sequence here is a beautifully crafted piece of art. He and cinematographer Enrico Lucidi gorgeously contrast the majestic Caucasus backdrops with the muddy reality of the woods, and the president’s stately demeanor and unsullied suit.
The director won a Crystal Globe at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2014 for his film Corn Island, and told audiences as he introduced his latest film that he was saving it for the festival (it had its world premiere on Sunday). He may have a good chance of winning again.