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Die Hard In Georgia: War As Caricature

Actor Andy Garcia during a shooting of a scene in Tbilisi in October 2009
Actor Andy Garcia during a shooting of a scene in Tbilisi in October 2009
I think it was about three years ago that some Armenian colleagues told me the story of how "The Lark Farm," a film by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, had come to life. Turns out it all began with the legendary Italian brothers arriving as special guests at the Yerevan Film Festival, with a lavish reception thrown in their honor.

The brothers were given books on Armenian-Turkish relations -- about the "Armenian genocide," as one part of the world calls it. Perhaps you would be interested in these tragic events of the 20th century, and perhaps you'd like to make a film about them, the brothers were told. Apparently, the books made a profound impression on them. So much so that, as soon as they returned home to Italy, the two middle-aged geniuses -- who could no longer amaze their fans as intensely as before -- made an announcement: they were starting to shoot a film about the Armenian genocide. That was exactly how they phrased it: "genocide." In other words, from the very outset it was made crystal clear that their film was going to be a "pro-Armenian" one.
It's highly unlikely that this "pro-Georgian" film will succeed in widening Georgia's circle of friends.

"The Lark Farm" turned out to be quite unremarkable, although it was shown at several important film festivals and did well enough at the box office. People who saw the film began to use the term "genocide" -- even if, prior to watching "The Lark Farm," they had very little idea about what happened in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the same vein, Georgia "commissioned" a film. The subject: the five-day war with Russia in August 2008. The chosen director: Renny Harlin of "Die Hard 2" fame. The title: "Five Days of August" (or "Five Days of War" as it's now called). On May 18, the film was screened at the Cannes film market, which takes place on the sidelines of the festival. Yes, the market, not the festival itself, contrary to what Georgia's national television channels were enthusiastically reporting. (Any studio can show their new films at the market provided they pay for them.)

It's highly unlikely that this "pro-Georgian" film will succeed in widening Georgia's circle of friends. Quite the contrary, such remarkable mediocrity and lack of talent might actually turn off even those who firmly stood on Georgia's side during the actual war.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili can be accused of many things, but his command of the English language is certainly better than how it is portrayed in the film by Andy Garcia. When watching, one is inevitably reminded of Stalin, Soviet secret police chief Beria, and other "Georgian characters" from old Soviet films, with their heavily accented Russian.

Good Georgians, Bad Russians

The accents, however, are just the beginning of the film's shortcomings. I don't think anyone doubts that "Five Days of August," as a project, was conceived and commissioned to propagandize, publicize, and show the world how Georgia had been victimized by the Russian Empire. But the film's plot is so hopelessly crude and the propagandizing is carried out in such a one-dimensional, excessive manner that the end result is a kind of peculiar "anti-propaganda." Russian soldiers are simply caricatures, portrayed in the same way as Nazis were in bad Soviet movies.

"Five Days of August," in fact, reduces the entire August 2008 war to a caricature. It is as if the director, as a boy, used to like playing war games with his toy soldiers; now, as an adult, he was given a chance to rekindle his passion with helicopters, tanks, blood-splattered faces, "brave Georgians," and "evil, ignorant Russians." There's also one additional flop. Georgian and Russian characters are played by foreign actors and speak English most of the time. But when they speak in their "native" tongues, awkward hilariousness ensues. The Georgian spoken by actress Emmanuelle Chriqui sounds so ridiculous that, instead of feeling compassion for her character, Georgian-speaking audiences will be able to do little more than laugh.

No one will be able to give me a convincing reason as to why Andy Garcia was invited to play Saakashvili. Why couldn't the authors use documentary footage, in which Saakashvili would portray himself? If nothing else, at least the infamous tie-eating scene would have been a bit more believable than it is now.

And what will non-Georgian, international audiences see in this film to make it commercially successful? Tanks, helicopters, blood-spattered faces -- plenty of those. Characters invoking compassion -- not really. Georgian and American flags -- plenty. A relatively objective assessment of the war, making us think through its causes -- not really. Georgia's beautiful landscapes that might attract prospective tourists -- plenty. The real Georgia and its people, with their hardships and intense suffering, before and after the war -- not really.

A bad film about five very painful days for Georgia's citizens would still have been sufferable, if not for the bleating of our infantile cultural officials and official media. Did anyone actually believe that any important film festival was going to include this film in its competition program? Why do you lie to us?

This is where "The Lark Farm" becomes relevant. The Italian film directors are desired guests at film festivals around the world. Even their bad films attract devoted viewers. But for representatives of Georgia's cultural and political establishment, an action-movie director like Harlin is much more valuable than some old Italian men -- who, in all likelihood, are not going to cast Andy Garcia.

In the end, it all boils down to good old Georgian snobbery, epitomized by the question we get asked every time we are back from the Cannes festival: "Did you get to see movie stars?"

"Did you get to see Andy Garcia?" I know they will ask me this year. And when I will say that Garcia was not in Cannes, people will be very surprised. "How come?" they will ask. "Didn't 'Five Days of August' premiere at Cannes? They said it did on television."

translated from Georgian by Salome Asatiani. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL