Rusudan Pirveli, 2010, Georgia
Susa is a twelve year-old boy surviving harsh Georgian poverty and where his entire life is selling illegal vodka. He has no friends; he doesn’t seem particularly streetwise though he has learnt to negotiate the pitiless adult world around him. There are hints of his creativity when he makes his own kaleidoscope – just one of numerous times where he seems to try and see the world through different perspective, as when he puts eyeholes on a window he steams up; or when he puts utensils to his eyes to give surroundings a colourful filter.
There is no humour here to brighten things as with, say, Taika Waititi’s ‘Boy’ (which is nevertheless just as downbeat but is sneaky about it). But neither is there the same ambiguity of Sam French’s short film ‘Buzkashi Boys’ where the hope for choice is crushed and could be either the tragic dismantling of dreams or the message to put away childish things. We know there will be no happy resolution for Susa because we can tell what kind of film this is. He and his mother pin their hopes on the return of the husband/father and that this will lead him to taking them away from it all, but we know that won’t happen long before he turns up as a burnt out shell who won’t change a thing. This aesthetic is not where hope will make an appearance.
The use of bildungsroman to lay out the pitiless nature of poverty is a well-established agenda and it proves no less effective here. As typical of this genre, the visuals are drab and drained, the aesthetic deceptively straightforward and unflashy. Perhaps you might be appalled at the poverty portrayed. There is little dialogue and music to provide respite. It looks and feels like something that could have been filmed anytime over the past several decades. Rusudan Pirveli’s direction keeps Avtandil Tetradze as Susa central at all times and is rewarded with an unflashy performance that, through context and slight expression, show his vulnerability, intelligence, sadness, resolve, and fleeting moments of enjoyment. It avoids the cliché of giving Susa a bad homelife – everyone is caught up in this punishing poverty – and his futile final expression of anger won’t mean a thing. This is how it is right now and it is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. That it comes in at 75 minutes means its sparse nature is direct without outstaying its welcome as a piece of empathising miserablism. Where the bulk of mainstream cinema offers up trite and persistent messages of hope, films such as ‘Susa’ are there for those who find those messages leave broken hearts and spirits.