Karlovy Vary 2021 review: Otar’s Death (Ioseb Bliadze)

“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.” – Coco Chanel

They say people react in different ways to death, depending on the perspective of the person who is currently dealing with it. This is the thesis of Georgian director Ioseb “Soso” Bliadze in his debut feature Otar’s Death, part of the East of the West Competition at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

When an untimely accident connects two different families the incident portrays the many effects on all the characters involved. As one family member gets destroyed dealing with the aftermath, another uses said opportunity to find a better living. It is through these different lenses that Bliadze shifts perspectives, painting various layers of the human emotions – 16-year-old Nika is overwhelmed with trauma and his life spirals down in a series of unfortunate events. His mother Keti, on the other hand, is determined but also desperate. She does not want to break the façade of being a strong woman, particularly to her son. Choir teacher Tamara feels trapped, but shows a refreshing vigor in getting a chance to escape to a new life. Living with her is Oto, whose guilt over what happened collides with Tamara’s hopeful ideas.

There is a keen effort shown in the film to juxtapose the similarities and differences of these two families. While they live in starkly different places – Keti and Nika in an urban residential tower, and Tamara and Oto in a remote house outside the city – all of them are catalysts to each other’s stories. Their history couldn’t have contrasted more, yet one incident can change that in a snap, weaving together all of their fates. Otar’s Death also has a certain patience with how the film fleshes out its characters. We see them individually in various scenes making us understand their daily lives before and after the incident, whether it was trying to make a living or dealing with the events of the aftermath. Even the title card is well inserted near the 20-minute mark, once the movie has already connected everyone in the story.

The great thing about Otar’s Death is that Bliadze, who co-wrote the film with Elmar Imanov, never really passes judgement on any of these characters; instead he lets them breathe and live without rewarding who is right or casting any stones on who is wrong. Positively helped by a competent ensemble, it is also reminiscent of earlier works by the likes of Asghar Farhadi and the Dardennes, where the audience gets a holistic view of these characters, knowing and understanding more about them than they themselves do. The film never paints anyone as an absolute villain, but as flawed humans who might be victims themselves of the system that corrupts them.

A twist in a later act of the film really changes the fate of all these characters. In a way, it gives Otar’s Death a much-needed humor when things have started to become too tragic. In real life, when huge incidents happen too quickly, humans tend to become reactive and get caught up without fully absorbing or seeing the situation from a bigger perspective. Some can overcome it, while others won’t be able to recover.