Scen.: Šalva Dadiani, Nutsa Gogoberidze. F.: Šalva Apakidze. Scgf.: Mikheil Gotsiridze. Recorded score composed by Giya Kancheli. Int.: Kote Daušvili (Parna), Merab Čikovani (Kavtar), Nutsa Čkeidze (Mariam), Ivlita Djordjadze (Tsiru), N. Iašvili (Gocha), O. Gogoberidze (Iagundisa), M. Tsitlidze (Kitsi), I. Slutsker (Gvada). Prod.: Goskinprom Gruzii. DCP. Bn.
Rediscovered in 2018, and as yet never screened outside Georgia, Uzhmuri was banned after its release in 1934. Presumed lost, the chances were that it would not surface again. It was made during the turmoil of the transitional period between the dissolution of the Association of Proletarian Writers (1932) and the official proclamation of socialist realism (1934). The screenplay was reworked several times, and a discussion in October 1933 showed that Nutsa Gogoberidze was facing the by-then defamatory accusation of making an agitprop film. In truth, if the film does once again conform to the obligatory theme of ‘old and new’, its poetry and its strong dramatic construction shine out. Gogoberidze switches her focus from the Caucasus mountains to the marshes of Mingrelia, which the authorities want to drain to combat malaria. The opening images of bucolic nature are followed by a world of illness: “Even the trees have malaria”. And the young communists who take on this operation for sanitation find themselves in conflict with local superstitions. Many can’t imagine pitting themselves against Uzhmuri, the Queen of the Frogs who haunts the marshes. She is said to lead anybody who chances upon her territory down into the depths, where she forces them to marry her. Sadly, the film doesn’t show the Queen of the Frogs but instead a kulak; and after some breathtaking suspense, he is defeated. This happy ending did not, however, prevent the wrath of the censors. At the beginning of the film, a beautiful sequence shows a dying buffalo, drowning in the marsh that swallows him up. The children who had been responsible for looking after him are crying, and calling for help. The buffalo’s head, filmed very close, is slowly covered by the mud. Did this harrowing scene, and other brutally pessimistic ones, seal the film’s fate?
Irène Bonnaud and Bernard Eisenschitz