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THERE ONCE WAS A SINGING BLACKBIRD (Iko shashvi mgalobeli) (director/writer: Otar Iosseliani; screenwriters: Dimitri Eristavi/Sh. Kakichashvili/S. Lungin/Otar Mekhrishvili/I. Nusinovi; cinematographer: Avtandil Maisuradze; editor: J. Bezuashvili; music: T. Bakuradze; cast: Gela Kandelaki (Gia Agladze), Marina Kartsivadze (Marina); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Z. Chkhaidze/G. Gvenetadze; Facets Video; 1970-USSR-in Georgian with English subtitles)
“One can appreciate in this psychological study Iosseliani’s wry poetical observations of the human condition.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Celebrated Georgian filmmaker Otar Iosseliani (“Falling Leaves”/”Aprili”/”Pastorale”) is the cowriter and director of this whimsical comedy-drama that explores a young adult trying to come to terms with his hectic and confusing lifestyle. It’s a comical portrait of a self-absorbed tympanist, Gia (Gela Kandelaki), who is always on the run and finds himself in hot water with the conductor of his state-controlled orchestra because of his constant tardiness. Gia lives in Tbilisi, Georgia, with his widowed elderly mother, in a small apartment. Following his activities for a whole day can make one dizzy keeping up with the nonsense that keeps him harried and always in a rush to keep an appointment, chat up a lady, to stop off to drink with the boys, take an injured wrestler friend to see his doctor friend, and play the piano at his aunt’s party and in the same evening sing with his drunken chums at a restaurant. All Gia’s hustle and bustle seems to be getting him nowhere, as the free-spirit upsets the Soviet bosses and they come down on him for being irresponsible. In the end, he pays the ultimate price for not watching where he’s going. This lazy idler who gets by on his charm and strikes a sweet chord with many of the regular Georgian citizens as an alright sort of guy, nevertheless his characterization has upset the Soviet authorities. They banned this film, considering his loose behavior a slap in their Red faces and to their work ethic. It led eventually to this most Georgian of directors exile to Paris and cinema freedom.

One can appreciate in this psychological study Iosseliani’s wry poetical observations of the human condition. It’s an energetic film that talks to us through its unlikely loner hero, who gently rebels against the absurdities of everyday conventional life. Our reluctant hero might be perceived as the Tati of the Georgians, where one pays a greater price for rebellion than in France. REVIEWED ON 9/1/2008 GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”