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Set in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Since Otar Left tells of a family of women left without any menfolk.

Good Bye, Otar!

The highlight of any day is when Otar calls
The highlight of any day is when Otar calls

Grandmother Eka (Esther Gorintin), silver-haired, hunched, and very grandmotherly, had two children, Otar and Marina (Nino Khomasuridze). Marina’s adult daughter Ada (Dinara Drukarova) rounds out the third generation. Eka whiles away her convalescence with occasional trips to the countryside, but the highlight of any day is when Otar calls.

Otar left for France and has been sending home money for the family. But in a development reminiscent of this year’s “East German” comedy Good Bye, Lenin!, Otar dies in an accident, and Ada and Marina decide to “protect” Eka from the devastating news. They invent a life for Otar that explains why he can’t call any more, although “he” does still send letters and money. Writing his letters gives Marina and Ada an outlet for their fantasies. Otar is doing very well in his letters, living exactly the life Marina and Ada would live if they were in Paris.

The lie becomes painful for Ada, who would rather tell her grandmother the truth. But Marina’s sibling rivalry is not ready to die, and she knows she can’t compete with a dead brother. The film’s inevitable conflict is introduced when Eka announces that she has saved enough money for all three of them to travel to Paris and visit Otar.

Solid Cinema

Since Otar Left has very good production values. It was shot on film, and it looks rich and polished. The film is competently made with occasional flashes of brilliance. And although none of the faces are recognizable to American movie audiences, the three leading women give very good performances, particularly Gorintin as Eka. She has arguably the smallest role of the three, but her matriarchal presence is commanding. Imagine the determined mother from The Triplets of Belleville, add another decade or two, and you’ll understand what Eka is like.

The familial themes in the movie — sibling rivalry, favoritism, individuality — give it depth. Julie Bertucelli is a director who knows how to show, not tell, which allows viewers to understand and interact with the film on their own terms. If anything, Bertucelli is too good at this skill; you may have to see the whole movie before you can appreciate it, which means that while watching it, you may find it aimless or slow.

But even superficially, the movie offers some interesting tidbits. For example, the story’s backdrop shows that Georgia is a strange mix of European modernism with failed Soviet institutions. A visit to the doctor is paid in cash, directly to the doctor. The characters take frequent power outages in stride. And Otar’s phone calls almost always get cut off before they’re completed.

Art-house crowds and sisters, mothers, and granddaughters will enjoy the well-made, introspective portrait of three generations of women. It may be a little slow for some tastes, but once you’ve seen it, you’ll have something worth talking about.