Pingyao 2021 review: Brighton 4th (Levan Koguashvili)

“With its tender focus of an honest father attempting to right the missteps of his son, Brighton 4th embraces solace less dependent on rigid geopolitical definitions and more upon the more forgiving boundaries of family and community.”

The immigrant story is frequently one positioned in film around survival of the other, notable in recent years with the overwhelming, large-scale human exoduses driven by war, instability, or climate change. When not absolutes of life and death, these works are poems to opportunities abroad, over a river or beyond the sea, and certainly the odyssey for a better life is central to many whose ambitions are found in the United States of America. There are expectations to these tales, and within their verses, there are typically woven themes of perseverance, grit and success. The journey is epic even when singular, great even in failure, but here is where Georgian director Levan Koguashvili’s latest film challenges the notion. With its tender focus of an honest father attempting to right the missteps of his son, Brighton 4th embraces solace less dependent on rigid geopolitical definitions and more upon the more forgiving boundaries of family and community.

The title Brighton 4th refers to a street in the eponymous Brooklyn neighbourhood but the name might evoke the 4th of July celebration with American audiences – Independence Day. That could very well be a winking dig at the lure of freedom since Soso (Giorgi Tabidze) has ventured to the U.S. in pursuit of a medical license only to find himself trapped with substantial gambling debts. His father Kakhi, a Georgian wrestler of renown (Levan Tediashvili, a real-life Georgian wrestler of renown in his home country) comes to visit but not before assisting his own brother with gambling losses at home. The differences between Tbilisi and New York City certainly do not manifest in dues owed and payments unresolved. Screenwriter Boris Frumin and director Koguashvili muse that the more things are different, the more they are the same, and life moves ahead.

Continent to continent and city to city, Kakhi navigates a world that is small but not claustrophobic. In Brighton 4th, the visual distinction between a Soviet-era plaza and a dim Brooklyn restaurant is minimal. The spaces that the filmmaker roams expand and contract, suggestions that a good man like the retired wrestler can find his centre of gravity in any given situation. From smoky sportsbook parlours to sandy expanses of Long Island beaches, melancholy richness pervades but sombre notes are diffused with the resiliency of humour. An early scene where the backside of a statue moons Kakhi and his luckless brother, and later sequences that include a seductive eldercare recipient and a kidnapping caper gone haywire reflect the approach. So, it is fitting that the weight of his son’s $14,000 gambling debt and education dreams unfulfilled is not crushing to Kakhi when he arrives in New York. His clear-minded acceptance of circumstance is revealed in his tiny quest to set things right through pure, paternal devotion, even as he longs for his wife and dog left at home. Koguashvili guides viewers through a gentle composition of vignettes, most sprinkled with pleasing dollops of wit and sincerity, and perhaps most poignantly, sung verses that reveal the universality of goodness in one father’s love.

It may seem a paradox for Kakhi – the wrestler never has to wrestle with misgivings or uncertainty in his course of action. This is not part of his heroic odyssey but simply intuitive to his way of living. That he is a stranger in a foreign land makes little difference since Brighton 4th demonstrates that physical place is not always the dominant factor or motivation. And while the brightness of the film is not in its palette but in the levity of its story, this is not to imply all endings are happy. A better life in the traditional sense may not be the coda to every song, but a more graceful life wrapped in sincere devotion can certainly echo through the passages carried forward.

Brighton 4th (Levan Koguashvili)