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Was sehen wir, wenn wir zum Himmel schauen? / What do we see when we look at the sky?

Director: Aleksandre Koberidze (Georgia, Germany). Year of Release: 2022

Kutaisi, Georgia. The end of the school day. Outside the playground where kids are still playing, we cut to a couple shot below the knee. He picks up a book that she dropped. She says thanks, and walks off. He goes in the opposite direction. A couple of seconds later, they’re back, having both taken the wrong path. Another cut, this time to a scene some time later. The couple – Lisa and Giorgi – are filmed from very long range. We hear them on the soundtrack agreeing to meet up tomorrow.

This is where the narrator intervenes to tell us that an Evil Eye has intervened and Lisa and Giorgi will wake up in different bodies (they will be played by different actors). They have also lost the talent to carry out their former professions (she was a chemist, he at footballer). There’s also some metaphysical nonsense about voices from seedlings and the wind. Lisa and Georgi each end up working in the local bar, although of course as they don’t look the same, they no longer recognise each other.

The film then takes us through a languid journey through everyday life in Kutaisi. The not yet star-crossed lovers appear in some of the scenes, but are absent from many others. Much of the plot takes place with the background of the World Cup – Giorgi is a fan of Argentina, as, it seems, are most of the local kids. In a scene towards the end, 5 boys take their tops off and paint Messi 10 in yellow on each other’s backs.

We are told various shaggy dog stories, sometimes with actual shaggy dogs included. The narrator, still in voiceover, introduces us to the two main venues in Kutaisi where people gather to watch the football together. There’s the bar, where the screen quality seems fuzzy at best, and the takeaway which only has a radio but tradition is tradition. Two dogs agree to meet at the bar, but one obviously wants to go to the takeaway and doesn’t turn up.

There’s a lot of this sort of whimsiness. I might be inclined to compare it to Lake Wobegon Days or My Winnipeg, but there is one significant difference. Whereas Garrison Keillor’s book and Guy Maddin’s film introduce incongruencies which are actually funny and challenge our perceptions, there doesn’t seem to be the same amount of care here. The whole joke seems to be that dogs that don’t set up meetings with each other (haha). Which is fine as far as it goes, but its hardly Metamorphosis.

While all this is going on, there is a film within the film. A photographer is looking for couples to take pictures of. The best 6 will be included in a documentary film. It’s getting late, and she asks Lisa and Giorgi to be her 50th couple. They tell her that they’re not together and they only just met, but she assures them that they won’t make the final cut and she just needs them for contractual obligations. This leads up to a final reveal which is enlightening if you like that sort of thing.

In other scenes, we see the local kids playing football. The girls seem to be more talented, and certainly more motivated than the boys. It’s all filmed in slow motion like a music video and is great, but has nothing really to do with the rest of the film. At one stage, the narrator tells us to close our eyes and when we reopen them everything will be different. This is a device that theoretically can work, but really needs the audience to be on-side.

When this film played at the Berlinale, a number of critics fell over themselves to shower it with praise, which confirms my theory that many Berlinale critics watch films for more self-indulgent reasons than actually having fun. This seems to be a film whose main posture seems to be flexing its intellectual muscles – in other words, showing where it might have something clever to say, without actually saying anything that is actually informative.

Although this is not a film that’s about anything, in its final scenes it makes a decent argument for why that is not particularly important. After all, all fiction is just made up stories. Is it so important that they also contain deep social comment? Maybe not, but there has to be something there. A film can only meander for so long, and 2½ hours is too long for pretty much any film, let alone one like this that seems to have so little to say.

Having said all this, much of the cinematography is astounding. Kutaisi is not the most spectacular of villages, but on occasion it looks phenomenal, particularly the late night shots of the bridges over the river which runs through town. This means that while the film is nowhere near as clever as it (and some fawning critics) would like it to be, if you just sit back and look at the pretty pictures, there’s enough here worth a watch. But feel free to leave as soon as you’ve had enough.

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