08 19 Oct '24

Young Critics Review: Wet Sand

74 Wet Sand Moe Fleshka Amnon Spero bar
Review 23 Oct 2021
During the Young Critics Workshop (12 – 23 October 2021) at Film Fest Ghent, five aspiring film critics (ages between 18 and 26) from Belgium and from abroad write reviews and essays on our festival films.

There’s something to be said for a happy ending. Watching the final embraces of the main cast of Wet Sand, the second feature of Georgian director Elene Naveriani, brings a glimpse of sunlight to a heart frozen over after 115 minutes of aimless plodding through a seaside town. Entering with a dyed mullet and tiger print shirt, Moe (Bebe Sesitashvili) arrives in a conservative village on the Georgian coast to investigate the mysterious hanging of her grandfather, Eliko.

The mystery clears up rather quickly; Eliko was, like his granddaughter, involved in a same-sex romance, his with dapper café owner Amnon (Gia Agumava). As a television news insert declares, Georgia has recently replaced its ‘Day Against Homophobia’ with a priest-led ‘Day of Sanctity and Strength of the Family’—an edict that the townspeople seem to support—and the forced covertness became too much to bear. Moe’s reconstruction of her grandfather’s life progresses by narrative inertia more than by clever sleuthing. While such disconnection from the minutiae of genre elements often gives a movie space for expansion beyond them (as in, say, The Big Sleep or Wanda), the characters here maintain a strained sobriety throughout. Moe cremates Eliko and Amnon, following his understated death, by tossing a Molotov cocktail into the café with their bodies inside. Freed from its narrative, the movie can relax in its last moments: Moe meets a lover of her own; the two start a new café and invite all their new friends—a deep, genuine hope for Georgia rings through these tender scenes.

Were it not for the oddly joyless script, Naveriani’s direction could provide enough intricacies to sustain the movie. Most scenes are composed in long, theatrical takes. Actors cheat out towards the camera and cross the frame with purposeful steps—or rather, purposeful-seeming, as their motions never seem to match with the rhythm of the scene, which combines with the overarching sobriety to strike a tone close to comedy. Languorous, sentimental shots capture Moe looking on as Amnon kisses his ex-lover’s dead body; isolated, it is pure cringe comedy, like Nathan Fielder’s out-of-step “I love you—again” in his acting treatise, ‘Smokers Allowed’, without the levity necessary to laugh.

Even when he’s not smooching corpses, Agumava’s Amnon holds himself with one foot in the grave—hunched shoulders, hanging arms, and blank stare. After all, his other half has died, and his non-expression of grief rings true with both the universal confusion of death and with his learned subterfuge after his years of hiding from Georgian society. At times, his brooding figure evokes the zombie-like Ventura from his films with Pedro Costa; accordingly, Agumava received the Leopard for Best Actor at this year’s Locarno, known for its consistent relationship with Costa’s work. Like the Portuguese filmmaker, Naveriani chose to cast non-actors for her lead roles, and perhaps the biggest knock against them is that they seem professional. Where Costa’s actors exist as collections of their rough edges, Sesitashvili can appear smoothed-over, like a community theatre player aching towards the big time. Wet Sand as a whole exists in this halfway point, on one side an over-slick mystery and on the other local tale from the heart; a step in either direction could be enough to elevate the material.

Jack Seibert Photo

Jack Seibert

Jack Seibert

I’m Jack, I grew up in New York City, and I live in Los Angeles now. Movies didn’t play a huge role in my life until a few years ago. Instead, I bounced around a bunch of interests, studying literature in college and currently working at a video game studio. Writing seemed like a natural way to sort through my feelings once movies did begin to consume my life—recent favourites include Nick Ray, Tsui Hark—and now I hope to do it as much as I can.

Cinephiliac Moment

There’s a moment at the end of Empire Records (Allan Moyle, 1995) that’s stuck with me since I watched it two years ago on a plane, where I’m always emotionally vulnerable. Renée Zellweger is singing on the roof of the record store, and the band points to her to sing a verse solo. She messes up, but then she closes her eyes and pumps her arms up and down in the most private, in-front-of-the-bathroom-mirror type of dance. It looks so uncool, but so assured, like she’s throwing away every nerve she’d built up over the movie. I saw it again when I watched Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939), when Jean Arthur sees the trick coin and drops her hesitations to run out into the rain. If you look close enough she even does a bit of the same arm pump. So that’s two moments, but also sort of one moment twice, a half-century apart.

Top three anticipated FFG Films

  1. The Souvenir Part 2 (Joanna Hogg): I liked the first one a lot, and I think it shows some of Hogg’s wry humour to release a “part two” to a movie like it. Imagine if we had The Devil, Definitely or Ordet 2: Twice the Resurrections.

  2. Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul): Since it’s based on a sound, I think it’ll be great to see it together with an audience. Plus I adore Jeanne Balibar.

  3. What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (Alexandre Koberidze): This might be my only chance to see it in a theatre and it looks very lovely.

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