Brighton 4th


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Brighton 4th
"After the fantastic opening scene, snapshots of their life in Georgia set the tone."

Levan Koguashvili’s Brighton 4th, winner of three awards in the International Narrative Competition of the 20th anniversary edition of the Tribeca Film Festival (Best Film, Screenplay for Boris Frumin, and Best Actor to Levan Tediashvili) was a 2021 highlight. Brighton 4th (Georgia’s Oscar submission) captures more than a former wrestling champion’s journey to the west. Every face we see, in Tbilisi or New York’s Brighton Beach, every movement of a passer-by, every crumbling high-rise and cloud formation opens up the possibility of story. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael’s compositions of reality are exquisite; the scenes make you think and feel and often laugh at the same time.

When we first drop in on an unruly crowd of Georgian men watching soccer in a sports betting parlour in Tbilisi, it is still unclear which one of them we will be allowed to follow, as though the camera were in the middle of picking a hero. There are all these fantastic faces the camera shows us briefly and then we move on to the next and there’s a guy who looks like Toni Servillo, but no, it’s not him. There’s one guy who has seen it all before, captured through someone else’s elbow. A trip to the market (with pears in season) where Kakhi (Levan Tediashvili) and his brother (Temur Gvalia) buy an exorbitant amount of local cheese, brings us one step closer to this extraordinary film’s destination.

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After the fantastic opening scene, snapshots of their life in Georgia set the tone. The two men talk outdoors. There are flags on the left, the butt of a statue on the right and a McDonalds far away in the distance. They do not look at each other while they speak. At the market, a pig’s head, the pears, and eight kilos of cheese which will eventually make their way to America. Crumbling oval balconies, shot from below, fill up with boys who exercise by carrying each other on their backs. Then they hop up and down in the dark corridors and train their bodies for the unknown future. Stop the film at any point and the still could hang in a museum to contemplate.

Brighton Beach, nestled at the Atlantic Ocean right next to Coney Island, is where Kakhi is headed to help straighten out the difficulties his son Soso (Giorgi Tabidze) is having with his gambling debt. It is the neighborhood where a great number of Georgians live and work. Many of them are women who send money back home to their husbands and children, whom they often haven’t seen in many years. As specific as the circumstances are, this is a film of well-chosen, universally poignant moments.

There is Kakhi playfully practicing an attack with Lena (Nadia Mikhalkova), the woman Soso plans to marry for a green card. In the background we see the wintry abandoned iconic Coney Island Parachute Jump from the past - as unobtrusive a metaphor as you can get. Amusement and risk, survival and empathy, absurdity and wisdom all come together in places no one would call traditionally pretty or inviting.

In a Brooklyn boarding house led by his sister-in-law, where his son resides, Kakhi shares a room with a bunkbed with Soso. Dad below gives exercise instructions to his son above. They cannot see each other, only the camera and we know if they are in synch. The visual equivalent of having information of plot points in a thriller that the characters themselves are unaware of.

Kakhi makes the acquaintance of an illustrious group of emigrants, all trying to survive in an environment marked at the ends of the spectrum by corruption and song. There are flirtatious seniors and a kidnapping and dangerous restaurant visits that resemble The Last Supper with tattoos and a back massage by a scantily-clad lady. When the film takes flight, Levan Koguashvili makes sure it also never loses its footing in quotidian reality.

A still-life of farewell, with candle and laptop screen of a video call from faraway in a small empty room almost reads like a premonition of the pandemic. An electric wall outlet at the top of the frame strangely beckons the eye, like a stain that the functioning of our whole world depends on. Speaking of stains, some are visible underneath the staircase in a building where Kakhi helps transport a refrigerator, as though it were a piano from Laurel and Hardy times. Buildings rotting from within in cinema always also speak of another, more human kind of decay (Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread features very similar spots in couturier Reynolds Woodcock’s atelier staircase in 1950s London).

The wonderful sense of humour lives in the real: two old people drinking their orange juice with a straw are watching attentively while Kakhi is kneading burgers. Another wonderful scene almost felt like Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game, because there is so much going on. One guy holds up shoes behind a group of people eating home-cooked food in the boarding house. Foreground and background action going on at once and you want to look at every detail.

The range of insight, both in regards to cinematic traditions and the so-called real world out there, is large. “I wrestled all my life, how could I not wrestle for you?” says the protagonist, a true hero in a world so close to running amok.

Reviewed on: 04 Feb 2022
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The story of a Georgian wrestler, Kakhi, en route to Brooklyn to help his son out of a gambling debt.

Director: Levan Koguashvili

Writer: Boris Frumin

Starring: Levan Tediashvili, Nadezhda Mikhalkova, Giorgi Tabidze, Kakhi Kavsadze

Year: 2021

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Russia, Georgia

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