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Smiling Georgia

No laughing matter: The lengths some politicians are willing to go in order to retain power can leave voters toothless - painful Georgian doc premieres at the 32nd edition of Raindance 

A peculiar conundrum centres around this documentary from Georgian director Luka Beradze. It looks at an incident from his home country in 2012, when president Mikheil Saakašvili promised new teeth for all Georgians in order to make the nation smile again. The film follows many who took him up on that deal, having their teeth removed before the president lost and the second part of the bargain was abandoned. Years later, they’re still waiting.

Like the politicians, we aren’t visiting this world for long. At just over an hour, we follow villagers who recall the day the dentists came and took their teeth, and the replacements that they still wait for. We observe them complaining about aching limbs, shooing away many farm animals that stroll into frame, and get together at various community celebrations. It’s a film that likes to be still and avoid pressing a particular narrative on what is unfolding, but one becomes clear.

Yes, it’s a quirky story, and perhaps it would be easy to chuckle at the locals happily handing over their incisors to someone who hasn’t even been elected yet. However, this happens on a grand scale in many political battlefields. Substitute teeth for a border wall or a cash sum printed on the side of a bus, and this becomes symbolic of many who have been taken in by those desperate for power. Indeed, as a new election gears up, the young candidates appear to be reading from a similar playbook, arriving with sleeves strategically rolled up and voices dramatically wobbling with emotion. While the slow moments of rural life might seem unrelated at first, it’s possible that this all the voters can do is continue with what they have, and hope they have voted for someone honest.

The liveliest exchanges are when a televisio presenter arrives with a camera crew and gaudy sunglasses, filming a show where she helps the unfortunate, hoping to focus on those left disadvantaged by the dental fiasco. It’s seen through immediately by the first house they come to visit, a woman whose husband berates the journalist, declaring “I’m embarrassed to be used like a clown”. This act of benevolence is exposed as arrogance, as a host looking for viewers is just as insincere as a candidate looking for votes. This arrogance turns to farce when her next subject has dentures and therefore doesn’t need help. It’s the best illustration of the caveats of philanthropy, and how these villagers have grown tired of out-of-towners with empty promises. It’s clear that these are people who have been lied to one too many times – “they don’t do anything, they just say things” a man laments after the latest poll results. “I’m tired of loving Georgia” another confesses while looking over a pond, perhaps the most damning verdict of all.

Over a short amount of time, Smiling Georgia sits with its subjects, and it grows an odd local tale into something more meaningful. As the credits roll, you begin to wonder how many other citizens carry on waiting for help that never comes.

Smiling Georgia premieres in the 32nd edition of Raindance.

By Victoria Luxford - 10-06-2024

London-born Victoria Luxford has been a film critic and broadcaster since 2007, writing about cinema all over the world. Beginning with regional magazines and entertainment websites, she soon built up...

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