In her first feature – Bebia, à Mon Seul Désir – Juja Dobrachkous explores themes of tradition and familial ties. Shot in brilliant black and white photography, the film relies heavily on local ritual to illustrate a young woman’s emotional struggle with the family that she abandoned.
Upon the passing of her grandmother Bebia (Guliko Gurgenidze), the estranged teen Ariadna (Anastasia Davidson) returns home to take part in the funeral. While undergoing preparations, for the ceremony, Ariadna is confronted with her role in Georgian burial tradition. As the youngest member of the family, it is her job to run a thread from the deathbed to the burial sight so that Bebia’s soul can find its way to the body’s resting place. For Ariadna, this means a 25-kilometer trek through untouched woods and hills. Ariadna being both largely removed from the family and a non-believer in the religious aspect is reluctant to go, but eventually resigns when subjected to enough pressure.
The standout of the film is without question the gorgeous black and white cinematography of the Georgian countryside shot by Veronika Solovyeva. The vastness of many of the shots reflect the smallness of the young woman both literally and figuratively. The extended scenes of silent walking through these shots while meticulously unspooling thread creates a hypnotic effect. These moments perfectly transition into flashbacks where Ariadna grapples with her relationship with Bebia. The interplay between walking and flashback work in perfect unison, but the same interplay that is present in the time before and after her meditative hike are less successful and lengthy.
There is a lot to appreciate in Dobrachkous’s debut feature. Bebia, à Mon Seul Désir is full of mature visual flare, and the stronger moments display advanced storytelling techniques and a deft hand for implementing metaphor. While the film was a bit overlong, and the less essential moments could have used some significant tightening, the good overshadows the lesser parts. As a filmmaker, Dobrachkous shows significant promise and will likely be an arthouse staple for years to come.