Director: Elene Naveriani (Georgia, Switzerland). Year of Release: 2021
Intemperate waves crash against a night time beach. Cut to: a man writing a letter while slowly drinking a bottle of red wine. When he has finally finished writing, he takes a last slug from his glass, and gets another bottle. He wraps the letter around the bottle, and covers it with brown paper, tied at the top with a red ribbon. The next day, the sleepy Georgian fishing village on the Black Sea is informed that Eliko has hanged himself.
Amnon opens the Wet Sand cafe as usual, even though his waitress Fleshka is late. There’s no deluge of customers, just the usual ageing fishermen playing backgammon. This doesn’t seem to be a place with many youthful people or much nightlife. Amnon himself has never fully been welcomed into the village, but this is the only bar in town, so the community affords him some sort of grudging acceptance.
When Fleshka does arrive, she attends to the customers reluctantly. While she is pouring a pint, she stops halfway through to stare at the tv newsman reports from the Covid-affected Family Day- This is a nationalist parade which was recently introduced by the Georgian government to replace the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. Fleshka looks at the television with mild disgust, as if the report were particularly offensive to her.
Both Amnon and Fleshka are outsiders in their own way, and neither of them has been fully accepted into the local community. Fleshka wears a jacket carrying the slogan “Follow your fucking dreams”, and carries a permanent scowl on her face. It’s as if she can’t quite understand how she ended up here, but now doesn’t know how she can leave. She inherited her house when her parents died, but no-one wants to buy it. Even if they did, where would she go? And who with?
Eliko’s granddaughter Moe arrives from Tbilisi to organise his funeral. With her jeans, tattoos and blonde streaks in her short hair, she does not fit in here one bit, with her big city ways. Moe is met off the bus by Amnon, but the other locals are less welcoming. That’s apart from the policeman Alex, who will make an unsuccessful pass at Moe. He doesn’t take rejection too badly, and continues to support Moe in her battle against the hostile community.
When it is gradually revealed that Eliko and Amnon were lovers, the previously indifferent village turns overtly hostile. The villagers want to prevent Eliko’s burial, and mobs with sticks appear outside his old house. His corpse is ripped from the graveyard and thrown into the nearby swamp. Even the local undertaker is not prepared to transport his body. This film shows the Kleindorfmentalität – small village mentality – that can quickly foster reactionary ideas.
In the face of this bigotry, Moe and Fleshka start to develop a sort of relationship. Moe at first is initially reluctant – as she draws back from a physical encounter, you assume that she thinking “do I need to endure all this hassle on top of what I’ve already got to deal with?” But slowly, the partners in crime get closer to each other in their shared resistance to a village which is not prepared to accept people like them.
Wet Sand is beautifully shot. Scenes of the moon beaming down onto crashing waves are both breathtaking and a stark contrast to daytime shots of the litter-strewn beach. At the same time, the film is at times painfully slow. It is not just the characters adding extra sylllabbles to the reallllly letharrrrgic dialogue. A lot of the time, they simply repeat what the previous person said. All this makes for a film that, notwithstanding its progressive message, looks a lot better than it sounds.
Wet Sand ends on a note of optimism – perhaps more than we should expect from what we have seen in the film so far. It has a clear belief in generational change – that younger people are more progressive and gender fluid enough to break down old barriers of intolerance. I sincerely hope that it is right. I would have liked the film to be a little more dynamic, but it deserves to be seen, if only for its message of hope and its stunning photography.