Julie Bertucelli Talks About Her Accomplished Debut, “Since Otar Left” (by Erica Abeel, April 30, 2004)

They just keep coming, these girlish French filmmakers who could double as ingenues, turning out remarkably assured first features. The recent crop includes Delphine Gleize with “Carnages,” Julie Lopes-Curval with “Seaside,” and Marina de Van with “In My Skin.” Now Julie Bertucelli, newest girl on
the block, steps up to the plate with “Since Otar Left,” awarded the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at Cannes 2003 before its screening at the 2003 New York Film Festival. Zeitgeist Films opens “Otar” in theaters today. Set in post-Soviet
Georgia and Paris, “Otar” is a finely calibrated film about exile, longing, and the lies we tell for love. Women of three generations — Eka, the wily grandmother, her embittered daughter Marina, and Ada, her educated granddaughter, who
somehow mothers them all — bunk together in a dilapidated apartment, enduring the blackouts and skittish phone service of post-communist Georgia. Eka lives for letters and phone calls from her beloved son Otar, a medical student working in construction in Paris without a visa. When Otar is killed in
an accident, Marina and Ada resolve to conceal the truth rather than break Eka’s heart — a lie that spawns a growing web of deception.

Focusing on telling gestures and never straining for effect, the film creates a moving triptych of women who cobble together a life out of odd bits and pieces, like the battered bric-a-brac Marina hawks at the bazaar to raise cash. A lesser
director would have mounted a tear-fest in the sequence that shows Eka — portrayed by the charismatic 90-year-old Esther Gorontin — hobbling through Paris in search of her son. But at every turn, Bertucelli balances pathos with humorous and surprising revelations about snatching hope from adversity.

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