“Requiem to the Hot Days of Summer is a thoroughly engaging voyage into a distant part of our world, aiming to be a vibrant and meaningful portrait of two wonderfully eccentric individuals.”
Somewhere in the densely forested mountains of Georgia sits a small village. Or perhaps settlement is a more appropriate description, since the concept of a village implies some sense of community. Its name is not made clear, or even known, with only its rough geographical location being noted. Despite its obscurity, this place is the home of the elderly Sanata and her son Guri, who lead the most simple of lives. Their days are spent working the land and running their small farm, sustaining themselves on the fruits of their labour, and generally finding ways to pass their days far away from civilization, to which they have never felt they truly belonged. This duo is the subject of Requiem to the Hot Days of Summer, a fascinating documentary conceived and directed by Giorgi Parkosadze, who is making his directorial debut. The film sets out to capture the daily routines of these people who have made a life for themselves in almost complete isolation, where a visitor to their home is a special occasion more than a regular occurrence, while focusing on both the triumphs and challenges that come with such a simple way of life. Crafted with the most sincere dedication and profound sense of honesty, and driven by an astonishing level of simplicity that reveals much more than we may have anticipated, Requiem to the Hot Days of Summer is a thoroughly engaging voyage into a distant part of our world, aiming to be a vibrant and meaningful portrait of two wonderfully eccentric individuals and the choices they have made over the years to maintain their chosen lifestyle.
Simplicity has always been an admirable quality amongst documentary filmmakers, since it takes a lot of work to find a subject that can be explored in a way that is both straightforward and very effective, getting across a particular message without becoming entirely heavy-handed. Parkosadze was on the right track from the moment he decided to capture the lives of Sanata and Guri on screen. How he became aware of them is not made clear, but it is obvious that he found them fascinating enough to structure an entire film around their daily routine, showing their efforts to maintain a lifestyle which is not easy but carries a simple beauty that we can appreciate for how it shows disdain toward the rushed nature of modern life. We find the director constructing a fascinating discussion around the existential tug-of-war between tradition and modernity, and while there is never any direct statement in favour of one over the other (the film is almost entirely told from the perspective of the subjects themselves, who have not known anything more than this specific life), there are elements that paint a vivid picture of the virtues of adopting a simpler lifestyle. It is neither in favour of this kind of life nor is it intending to show how difficult it tends to be – instead, it is as objective as possible, showing both sides and allowing us to form our own opinion.
A documentary like Requiem to the Hot Days of Summer is always going to depend on its structure to make the most significant impact, since this is not the kind of film that rewards overwrought storytelling. Unlike many directors that approach their subjects with the promise of complete authenticity, Parkosadze seems to be genuinely willing to step away from guiding the direction in which the story progresses. Naturally, he curates specific moments and pieces them together to create a broader conversation, but his work is never discursive to the point where it seems like he is inserting himself into the lives of these characters. An observational documentary can only be effective if the viewer forgets that we are watching a film and peering into the lives of its characters, and the director does well to establish a distinct mood, one that is as close to reality as we are likely to get. It is undeniably a bleak film, particularly in the visual construction, but the director uses this quite effectively, finding the beauty within the banality. We are immediately struck by how bare and unfurnished this film is, but it reflects the lives of its subjects, who manage to get by on very little and seem perfectly content with this routine of having the bare minimum, since it is essentially all they need. Parkosadze uses the camera to get close to these people, capturing their lives with extraordinary detail and removing that membrane that separates the viewer from the subjects, placing us right in the heart of an Eastern European settlement and allowing us unfettered access to the daily trials and tribulations of our protagonists.
Requiem to the Hot Days of Summer is certainly not going to appeal to all sensibilities. The viewer needs to have some level of patience, since this is a film that moves at a glacial pace and takes its time in telling its story. This is human life committed to film in as authentic and meaningful a form as possible, and as a result it can feel quite slow at times, but in a way that is still very effective. A beautiful and engrossing glimpse into the experiences of two people who have maintained their fierce independence from the outside world, the film is a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit as seen through the eyes of a pair of fascinating individuals that represent an invisible portion of the global population; a group that baulks at the idea of modernity, and instead chooses to live on their own terms. Which is admirable, if not enviable, for those of us who sometimes grow weary with urban life. It may not always be the resonant, celebratory manifesto that promotes abandoning modernity and returning to our roots, since the lives of these people are objectively quite difficult and filled with exhausting but mandatory routines – but it’s in these details that we find Requiem to the Hot Days of Summer becoming so effective. Earnest in intention and powerful in execution, Parkosadze crafts a fascinating film that portrays the reality of these people in stunning detail and offers us a different perspective on everyday existence, which is always worth our time, even if only to allow us to get a more nuanced, cross-cultural understanding of our world.