This Mire Called Life
Editor’s note: The Machines Which Makes Everything Disappear is screening at the Doc Yard on 1 July, followed by a Skype Q&A with director Tinatin Gurchiani, and opening at New York’s Cinema Village 9 August.
“I was seven when the bombings began. I remember very well what happened then, it was horrible, but I had a fantastic time until I was seven.”
The wall is painted pale blue, the surface rough and chipped. Before it stands a series of individuals, one by one, smiling, gesturing or ducking their heads as they answer questions put to them by an off-screen director. They’ve arrived in response to a casting call announced by filmmaker Tinatin Gurchiani in 2011, for young people in Georgia who believe “that their biography, everyday life and goals are exclusively interesting for film.” As each subject enters the space, the camera remains still, observant, as Gurchiani poses questions: “What is your biggest dream?” or “How do you start each day?” or again, “If I come with you, will you show me your life?”
The stories told in The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear (Manqana, romelic kvelafers gaaqrobs) seem at first to be very different: asked about his specific film interests, a young father suggests he’d be a good substitute for Van Damme, because “I like his movies a lot,” adding that he can cry on cue, too by imagining “a sad person walking down the street, lost in his thoughts.” A 13-year-old boy describes his work digging potatoes or cutting corn (“I don’t have a lot of work in winter,” he adds, “Sometimes I chop wood”). And a young woman arrives at the casting call wearing her stylish black and white wedding dress, as she is, in fact, on her way to be married, where she will be singing. Here the camera cuts to brief shots of the wedding, happy faces and dancing figures, under Teona’s traditional song: “A woman must be in love with one, not an entire flock.”
The film is that rare thing, a genuine, affecting, and provocative surprise. As it assembles intimate fragments and incessant memories, as it peers into present moments touched by the past, it shows how the time eludes and also shapes young people in Georgia. And as disparate as their experiences may be, their accumulation in The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear reveals their similarities too. As the film follows occasional subjects outside the empty blue-walled space where they introduce themselves, you see similarities too. The subjects face bleak futures, metaphors made literal as the camera treks along behind them, along muddy village paths or snowy fields
One boy describes the work of breeding sheep or cows, noting that he doesn’t like to “sell them in the village because my heart goes bad.” Pressed to explain, he shrugs, “I can’t make peace with it because I bred it and I can’t see it somewhere else. If they kill them, I will feel pity.” Asked what she wants to do in 10 years, Madi stands before the wall and declares, “I don’t know.” Tall, thin, and pale, she gestures beautifully and continually as she speaks, as if she’s vibrating within herself. “I get tired in the grand total,” she says, detailing the start of her day with remarkable poetry: “When I come out of the bathroom, I realize I’m tired of everything and I’ve gotten tired of this tiredness.” As a child, she says, she climbed a cherry tree, from which she observed the other children playing. Today, that tree holds “an important meaning,” but as she imagines, briefly, making that metaphor material keeping a cheery tree in a pot in her apartment, she sighs. “I must take care of it though. It is very tiresome to take care of something. Everything is tiresome.”
As compelling as it is poignant, Madi’s performance exemplifies the contradictions that shape The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear. As each subject relates a tragedy or hardship, each also reveals resilience and self-reflection, however articulated. At the same time, the film provides context and correlation. A young man remembers fleeing home with his family during the 1992-1993 Abkhazian war, when he was only seven years old. During their journey, he says, they came upon dead soldiers, frozen in the cold, at one point so many that “no one could cross without stepping on them.” He pauses, then adds, “That was the moment my father took me into his arms, trying to cover my face with his hands, not to see such a horrible thing.”
Twenty-two-year-old Gocha has a different memory of the same war. As As he goes on, Gocha’s story changes shape, as he recounts that his father was taken prisoner, and no one knows “where his grave is.” He would have liked to follow in his father’s military footsteps, Gocha says, but he was arrested with friends: “It has a negative effect on your military career,” he notes, “When you’re arrested or on probation.” Gocha goes on to “show [his] life,” the camera tracking along with him as he rides his motorbike to visit relatives and a young woman. He’s delivering letters from his brother, currently incarcerated 23 years after a conviction for robbery. Gocha encourages each to write back: “I ask you to appreciate what has to be appreciated,” he says, even as the young woman explains that she only knew Irakli briefly, when she was 13, five years ago. Still, she tells the camera, apart from Gocha, she feels obligated to write. “Now he is waiting for my letters all the time,” she says, “And I can’t deprive him of this hope. This is a small thing that is still left for him there.”
Small things help people to manage difficult history and ongoing heartache. A refugee and puppeteer, Tako, describes her aspiration to be an actress, as well as her lifelong regret that her mother abandoned her (“She left me for a man,” she says, bitterly). Smiling, Tako retells her favorite fairy tale, Cinderella, with a twist, in which the heroine lives on with her father, “and they are happy.” Still, she’s curious, and after consulting with her father and auntie (who worries, “I hope you won’t betray me and that you’ll be faithful”), Tako decides that even though she has no need of her mother, she wants to know why she left. She packs her bag and makes her way to another village, another muddy path, and confronts her mother. The pain is so stunning that for a moment, all she can do is sob, standing at the back of the frame, such that she’s hidden from the camera as her mother approaches, trying to comfort her. “I beg you, don’t touch me!” the daughter gasps.
The scene, harrowing as it is, resolves unexpectedly. The same can be said for The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, as it makes so many stories visible, embraces so many performances and energies, and makes them so accessible and so memorable. “They say life is beautiful,” says Eduard near film’s end. “It is not. It’s a period of certain suffering.” It is also, as the film makes dynamically clear, a period of beauty and audacity and brilliance.