Iko shashvi mgalobeli | იყო შაშვი მგალობელი | There Once Was a Singing Blackbird [1970]

6/10 | 24.Sep.12
Iko shashvi mgalobeli | იყო შაშვი მგალობელი | There Once Was a Singing Blackbird

DIRECTOR: Otar Iosseliani | WRITERS: Dimitri Eristavi, Otar Iosseliani, Sh. Kakichashvili, Semyon Lungin, Otar Mekhrishvili, Ilya Nusinov | CAST: Gela Kandelaki, Gogi Chkheidze, Irine Jandieri, Jansug Kakhidze, Elene Landia | USSR (Georgia)

The title of Otar Iosseliani’s 1970 film is translated into English as There Once Was a Singing Blackbird or Once Upon a Time There Was a Singing Blackbird — and into French as Il était une fois un merle chanteur while the German is Es war einmal eine Singdrossel — so it’s clear we’re in fable land. What that means, of course, is that behind the inconsequential if enjoyable surface story there’s an important moral to be learned. Ugh. So: we have a young Georgian named Gia, the timpanist at the Tbilisi Opera House, whose sense of timing is exquisite and worked out to the second, literally, but who has no real grasp of Time. Gia arrives just barely dressed to his place in the pit a split second before his cue for a flourish on the kettle drums and then he’s off to his next destination where he’ll alight just long enough to make his presence known before he’s off yet again. We see him starting to write music, tailoring a half-finished suit, researching something in the library, all of which he puts aside almost instantly. We see him bump into acquaintances and casually make dates only to break them as casually; we see him arrive late to meet one group of friends only to leave for another group; we see him endlessly flirt with women, and we see that he probably doesn’t go on second dates.

That Gia has been able to get through life relatively unscathed is due no doubt to his easy manner and charm, but there are clear signs that his flightiness has taken a toll. He tells his mother and a doctor friend that he’s so busy running from one thing to another that he can’t make commitments or even get anything done; he hides from people he doesn’t want to see and makes up patently phony excuses for his tardiness to others. And Gia has been lucky, too, at least up until now: a heavy flower pot falls from a balcony and just misses him on the sidewalk below; some masonry falls from a building after he’s crossed a warning barrier and almost lands on him; he almost steps into an open trap on stage after a performance. Iosseliani has a light touch and he keeps things moving, slowing down just long enough for you to sense Gia’s weariness and melancholy. What has Gia accomplished in his life? Or even on the day and a half depicted in this movie? Iosseliani’s answer to the second question is a trivial act that Gia performs almost unobtrusively that only viewers of the movie can appreciate for its significance, and then only at the end of the movie. (SPOILER: He nails a hook in the wall in a repair shop he frequents for people to hang their caps on.) All told a decent movie told economically and well. And the moral? At first I was going to make a joke by writing “carpe diem”, but you know, I think it’s close: Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero (“Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future”), with an equal emphasis on “carpe” and “diem”. The future is coming whatever you do so make the most you can of now. (Or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about and got the movie all wrong. That’s been known to happen.)

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