Bebia, à mon seul désir (2021) establishes itself as an elegant and stylish film, and reveals a major talent – Juja Dobrachkous – who directs with patience and respect for the art of film itself. While the debuting filmmaker didn’t refrain from a few rookie mistakes, she surely leaves a mark on the indie cinema scene of 2021.
If you recall the Greek mythology story about Ariadne, you will understand the intentions of calling the protagonist of Bebia, à mon seul désir (2021) that way. In the mythological tale, Cretan princess Ariadne helped the mighty Theseus escape Minotaur’s Labyrinth with a thread of glittering jewels.
Ariadna from Juja Dobrachkous’ film also weaves a thread, however, the purpose of her act differs quite significantly. Let’s rewind the clock a bit though. Ariadna (Anastasia Davidson) lives in London, pursuing career as a fashion model. Her modern-world tranquility is disturbed by a phone call, during which she learns about the death of her grandma (Guliko Gurgenidze). Whether the girl likes it or not, Ariadna needs to return to Georgia and participate in the traditional funeral.
Juja Dobrachkous briefly sketches Ariadna’s life before Temo (Alexander Glurjidze) – a dark-haired, laidback guy who claims to be her family’s friend – picks her up and drives to the village. Once we settle in the harsh reality of rural Georgia, the debuting director-writer channels her efforts on sketching the problematic relationship of Ariadna and her mother (Anastasia Chanturaia). All it takes is really a few puns that make it abundantly clear – the visit will be one hell of a test for Ariadna.
Here’s the main bone of contention between the two women – according to the Georgian tradition, the soul of the deceased needs to find the way to the body. Since Bebia’s deathbed was in a hospital, more than 20 kilometers away from the home where the body is now, the tradition requires the youngest woman in the family – Ariadna – to literally connect the two places with a thread so that the soul can reunite with the body. Whether Ariadna is a take on Charon, the menacing ferryman who traversed Hades in order to carry the souls between the two banks of Styx, or just a take on the Cretan princess, Dobrachkous moulds her journey with clay made of symbols.
The more we get to know Ariadna, the more we see the things she escaped from. Since she clearly looks down on the customs rooted deep in the past, seeing them as Dark Ages, and unworthy of the 21st century, Ariadna also finds the clash with her past hard to cope with. When the pre-climax scene arrives, the protagonist even screams her frustration out loud, about time the extensive thread-rolling walk really gets to her bones. At this point, Dobrachkous seizes the opportunity to paint a stark contrast between the world of Ariadna and rural Georgia. The director treats us with an entire palette of exoticisms – professional mourners and the thread tradition are just a fraction of what’s to be seen in Bebia, à mon seul désir (2021). Needless to say, this used to be the everyday bread for the protagonist, however, her hostility makes these customs all more alien to us, the audience members, too.
Juja Dobrachkous strikes me as passionate about the topic too. She obviously loves the bucolic Georgian countryside, and sees the tradition as a merit, and not something shameful, or worth forgetting. Having watched a few other Georgian films this year – Brighton 4th (2021), and What Do We See When We Look At The Sky (2021) – there’s clearly a pattern that ties contemporary Georgian filmmakers in their praise for their country, and the deep respect for the tradition. Dobrachkous plays along with the trend, in a dreamy manner that lets the narrative roam freely, unveiling the fabulous adventure of Ariadna at its own, simmering pace.
Bebia, à mon seul désir (2021) will also appeal to those, who like stories told in a visually sumptuous manner. DP Veronika Solovyeva draws from the best. Her work is reminiscent of Roma by Alfonso Cuarón, since much of the W/B cinematography favors still, patient shots, that are occasionally intertwined with dynamic camerawork. I could also see inspirations drawn from Terrence Malick’s films (A Hidden Life (2019)), in particular the manner in which Solovyeva captures the fleeting beauty of the Georgian countryside in close zooms and some unconventional frames, while also finding space for trendy drone sweeps that follow Ariadna and Temo on their journey, embracing the picturesque horizons of the Caucasus.
Battle-hardened indie fans will also notice how Bebia, à mon seul désir (2021) flirts with folk tales in the way that some Eastern European films did in the recent past. Estonian horror movie November (2017) comes to mind, although Dobrachkous rarely reaches for paranormal, truly mystical aspects. Instead, the director likes to fantasize about the centuries-old traditions, cherished and cultivated despite the feverish race of the modern world. One can also see this film as a reflection on how old beliefs and customs are slowly rooted out by the reality seen through the screens of smartphones, defined by startup geniuses and the hegemony of swift communication.
A word or too should also be dedicated to Alexander Glurjidze who steals the show. As the kind of good-willed bad boy, and a humble companion for the protagonist. If anything is to be pointed out s the film’s weakness, it’s Anastasia Davidson as Ariadna. The actress visibly struggles to draw us into her character’s conflict, with some of the key moments hitting less hard than they should. Nonetheless, this is a minor hiccup on a satisfying, stylish and folk-inspired ride.