Sunday, June 04, 2023

In ‘Citizen Saint,’ Georgian Director Tinatin Kajrishvili Asks What If God Was One of Us

Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Work in Progress section is about to witness a miracle thanks to Tinatin Kajrishvili’s third feature “Citizen Saint,” about small-town miners suddenly discovering that their protector has literally come down from the cross and into their lives. Produced by Lasha Khalvashi, Denis Vaslin and Borislav Chouchkov, the upcoming film is a co-production between Georgia (Artizm), France (Mandra Films) and Bulgaria (Chouchkov Brothers).

Kajrishvili, already known to festival audiences thanks to Berlinale titles “Brides” and “Horizon,” wasn’t trying to make a religious film, she states, more interested in the power of hope and the lengths most people will go in order to preserve it.

“Georgians are very religious and one day, a guy appeared in my neighborhood, calling himself ‘Saint Nicolas.’ His followers found him an apartment and they would just stand in front of his house, praying. Whenever he would open a window, or throw a tomato at them, they would just pick it up and consider it as a blessing,” recounts the director who co-wrote the script with Basa Janikashvili.

“After one year, he became ‘King Nariman.’ Now, he even has a Facebook page where his followers talk about his ‘miracles’. I can’t call it a direct inspiration but that’s when I understood that people really do need this kind of hope in their lives, even though the way they go about it can sometimes be viewed as naïve. Also, I don’t think we have changed that much over time – we are just as cruel as we were two thousand years ago. If Christ was to return today, we would just hurt him all over again.”

With the help of her DP Krum Rodriguez, whom she calls “the hero of the film” for shooting underground in complete darkness, Kajrishvili decided to show real mines of Georgia’s Chiatura in the film. Before, the location has also attracted the likes of Vincent Cassel, who visited the town while shooting “Partisan” back in 2015.

“They have been doing it for so many centuries and things haven’t really changed much. When I saw these people, I understood that when you are that desperate, when your daily routine is on the edge of life and death, nothing can shake you anymore,” says Kajrishvili. Not even the presence of a renowned French actor, which left local miners rather indifferent. “None of them paid any attention to him. ‘Fine, Vincent Cassel, he is doing his job and we are doing ours,’ ” she jokes.

Still, a sudden disappearance of the statue they view as holy quickly creates a rift in the battle-hardened community. And even though many could use his actual help, from the man who blames himself for his son’s tragic death to a woman who just wants her husband to be able to walk again, others would rather see him back where he belongs – on the cross, overlooking the mines and protecting their every step.

Enlisting some of her recurring actors, starting with Mari Kitia whose turn in “Brides” brought her Sarajevo’s Best Actress award in 2014, Kajrishvili ended up casting George Babluani as the titular saint.

“I wanted him to appear naïve and George has this innocence in his face. He isn’t talking, so he becomes everyone’s mirror – people keep sharing their secrets with him but he never responds. When nobody is opposing you, you can easily convince yourself that what you are preaching is right. But in the end, he is also their inner voice,” she says, admitting she would still like to make something completely different next time, preferably a genre film or even a comedy.

“Even this one was supposed to be a comedy and I made a dark drama instead. Who knows where I will end up next?”


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