Berlinale 2021 review: What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (Alexandre Koberidze)

Fate plays a vitally important role in What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (რას ვხედავთ როდესაც ცას ვუყურებთ?), the ambitious Georgian drama by Alexandre Koberidze, which asks several questions surrounding whether or not we are able to write our own destinies. Offering the viewer an immersive experience that makes exceptional use of most of our senses, the director takes us on a journey that traverses the many edges of modern society and focuses on the most intricate details, which he fashions into this profoundly strange, but thoroughly worthwhile work of compelling fiction. A striking leap into the depths of the human condition that never fails to mesmerize, even when it is at its most intentionally bewildering, this is a film that is certainly likely to polarize, but in ways that are effective and thought-provoking. The director offers us a fascinating glimpse into the trials and tribulations of several characters, and extracts the most meaningful commentary from their otherwise entirely ordinary lives, which are repurposed as captivating stories that keep us engaged, if not in a daze inspired by only the most impeccable and well-composed abstraction of recent years.

Throughout the film, the audience are voyeurs into a few dozen lives that populate the city of Kutaisi, with the director breathing a new perspective into an ancient city by focusing on a number of modern themes woven intricately into the fabric of the story. We are immersed in this city, witness to the multitudes of sights and sounds of life in this corner of the world, both of nature and industry, which exist in perfect symbiosis. The film is best described as a mosaic of existence, composed of several fragments of lives (consisting of people, animals and even a few inanimate objects that are briefly given roles to play in the progress of the story), which are pulled together by patterns and repetitive themes that convey the sentiment that we are all connected in one way or another, even if we are initially strangers.

Life has a tendency to bring us all together, which is the primary thesis statement of a film fully committed to exploring the poetry of existence and the internal journeys we all embark on as we find our individual paths. This is exemplified in the structure of the film, which is divided into two distinct parts: the first focused on establishing this increasingly complex world and introducing the audience to a group of wildly different characters, and the second focused on building on this foundation and drawing these disparate narrative threads together into something coherent. In the version of the world created by Koberidze, nothing is random, and everything has a particular place, even if it does not appear as such from the outset. Accidental encounters or unintended situations are non-existent in this film, which takes these supposedly arbitrary moments and uses them as the foundation for an increasingly fascinating commentary on the relentless uncertainty of destiny.

In a free-spirited drama focused squarely on some of life’s most unexpected idiosyncrasies, the director is collecting various fragments of life and repurposing them into a narrative that has the dual function of being both a vivid celebration and cautionary warning towards the unexpected nature of fate. The film captures our attention by diving into the everyday lives of its characters and demonstrates that, despite leading entirely different existences and following varying paths, we are all connected under some omnipotent force. Time seems to work slightly differently in Kutaisi, and the director ensures that we understand the value of every moment, each one being essential in the lives of these characters. The director employs various units of time as a means to frame the story and explore the individual states of these characters, whether it be the few seconds someone is able to hold onto an iron bar, the length of a football game, or a matter of days – even the most banal events are shown to be compelling through this perspective. As is made increasingly evident throughout the film, every moment, even those we would normally consider trivial or inconsequential in any other context, is absolutely essential, and the fleeting nature of time hints towards the overriding theme of our impermanence.

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?  is an anomaly of a film, since based on a cursory glance, there seems to be something embedded in it that may not lend itself to the visual medium, a kind of philosophical pondering that we have seen falter countless times before. However, Koberidze is in pursuit of something much deeper than a surface-level enquiry into common issues, and instead produces a profoundly psychological work that burrows into our mind and takes us on a wildly unpredictable journey. It is an incredibly abstract film that does not easily lend itself to coherent analysis. Through being composed of a series of interconnected vignettes, the film finds new ways to comment on some common themes, such as bittersweet romance, and the importance of navigating a treacherous world that rarely benefits those not willing to make some effort to understand its bewildering quirks. A beautifully composed film that makes exceptional use of music, sound design and cinematography in telling this story, it is an astounding entry into a steadily growing canon of metaphysical odysseys that set out to present a distinctive, unique version of our world and the concepts that we often take for granted. As we see throughout this film, these ideas can easily become the subject of a fascinating and insightful work of philosophically charged, thoughtful contemporary storytelling.