EIFF 2013: 'Everybody's Gone' review

A surreal period piece about a small Georgian community during the dying whimpers of the Soviet Union, Georgy Paradzhanov's Everybody's Gone (Vse ushli, 2013) is a somewhat bizarre mix of folkloric philosophies, archaic traditions and the capricious nature of memories. Known primarily as the nephew of revered Georgian-born, Armenian-raised director Sergei Paradzhanov, Paradzhanov's inaugural piece of fictional filmmaking (his debut, a documentary about his uncle, premiered at Cannes last year) shares much of the same visceral splendour of his uncle's work, with the quaint Georgian town masterly captured throughout.

However, Paradzhanov appears to have bitten off more than he can chew (or perhaps more than he's prepared to leave on the cutting room floor) with this noticeably unhurried tale, which is far too muddled and bloated to allow its spiritual undertones to truly enrapture the audience. We observe Garry (Zura Kipshidze), the film's protagonist, as he wanders through the darkened corridors of a dilapidated town house. Is he here searching for something, or is this a metaphor for his personal voyage through the dusty cobwebs of his own memory? As it happens it's both, with the audience whisked back in time to Garry's past and left to observe the curious rituals of his childhood hometown.

Garry recalls a myriad of cherished moments: fun ones, sad one and some that need to be seen to be believed. This variety of philosophical reflection is perfectly articulated, with Paradzhanov offering up an equal mix of laughs and moments of genuine confusion. These constant tonal shifts culminate in a film that's near impossible to engage with, too often flitting between characters and side stories when the focus should really be sustained on Garry. Despite such narrative missteps, Everybody's Gone manages to use the history and geography of this provincial town to great effect. While we may feel detached from the story and its characters, we do become completely immersed in Garry's world.

Dramatising this small Soviet community and creating a near-soap opera level of character development, Paradzhanov's narrative debut may not be an assured and accomplished drama, yet as a historical and anthropological study of rural Georgia it remains a truly fascinating experience. Beautifully poetic in its deeply visual approach, this opaque yet curiously charming tale stands as a vivid tapestry of the curious rhythm and peculiar disparities of traditional Georgian life.

Everybody's Gone is a bewitching yet terribly frustrating work that, whilst brilliantly bookended by some striking cinematography, ultimately loses focus. As such, Paradzhanov allows his story to tail off into a rather mediocre example Eastern European cinema, which only dares to peek out from the creatively stifling shadow of the shrinking Soviet Iron Curtain.

The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble


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