Sylvie Testud, Stanislas Merhar, Olga Legrand, Pascal Bongard, Georges Babluani, Leo Gaparidze / Fiction / French & Georgian
The holiday from hell - Georgian style.
The gripping starting point for father and son Géla and Témur Babluani’s atmospheric thriller comes during a long bus journey that three French tourists are taking to a remote part of rural Georgia. Near its destination, the bus picks up an old man and his young grandson. They board with a large wooden box, which is soon revealed to be an empty coffin. One of the French tourists asks the young man about it. “It’s for my grandfather,” he says, indicating his elderly companion. “We’ll need it tomorrow.”
This unhappy pair are going to the village of a rival family, who are to shoot dead the grandfather the next day to settle a long-running blood feud. Unfurling with taut economy and dry detachment, The Legacy follows the French trio and their Georgian interpreter as they first attempt to video this event (for a documentary back home), then intervene to prevent any killing.
Set in Georgia’s capital city and its remote rural provinces, the Babluanis’ watchful, documentary-style approach gives a richly detailed account of their home country, as convincing in its portrayal of Tbilisi gangsters fencing electronic goods as it is in peasant farmers settling ancient scores. But the film is also a sharp commentary on the arrogant, acquisitive streak of Western tourists. Here economic and cultural exploitation go hand in hand, with one of the French visitors in Georgia to claim a ruined castle she’s inherited – the eponymous legacy – while her two travelling partners insensitively film the locals for their putative documentary. (Raised in Georgia, but educated in Paris, the background of Babluani fils straddles the two cultures).
Géla Babluani’s debut 13 (Tzameti) was a forceful, claustrophobic neo-noir that revolved around an extended variation on Russian roulette. The Legacy retains 13’s ferocious black humour and its concern with the cruel tricks that fate can play, but it’s a more thoughtful and resonant affair. Accruing a delicious sense of tension through a slow build of quietly observed details, The Legacy is at once a sly tragedy about unintended consequences (the French trio’s efforts to stop the killing don’t pan out as planned), a cautionary tale for Western backpackers, a vivid portrait of the tension between modernity and tradition in rural Georgia, and a modern-day horror with all the dark lustre of a ancient folk tale.
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