Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning is a debut of serenity, seclusion, and stillness – where the sinister bubbles below the surface.

To say that we are invited into the world of Jehovah’s Witness Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili), would be untrue. The fixed camera and long shots throughout create a sense of intrusion into a life we are not felt permitted to be privy to. As an isolated member of a seemingly detached community, Yana would not allow us to take a step closer, nor would she want us to. We witness her coping with trauma as she negotiates her role as both the oppressed and the oppressor – a victim and a persecutor. It is in this duality that Kulumbegashvili finds her stride, not reducing a woman to these rudimentary labels but exploring the intricacies of Yana’s life whilst weaving these roles as but threads in her existence. This is not a story of trauma, but rather a story where trauma has happened to occur.

Shot in the squarish 1:33 aspect ratio, these unfolding of events are doubly claustrophobic as we are equally enveloped in situations of panic and fear. This, paired with the consistently still camerawork, keeps you both figuratively and literally in the dark, about the events that unfold just out of the view of the lens. This is however, not to say that Kulumbegashvili shies away from keeping her audience in the terror. Her devotion to drawing out stillness is paired with the same dedication to moments one wishes to soon be over. Unfortunately, this balance is not as considered as one would hope. Scenes of serenity push past peace into mundane, whilst gratuitous displays of terror quickly enter the same territory of the infamous subway scene from Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible.

As a debut, the artistry of Beginning is undeniable, not only justifying its acclaim but bringing excitement around where the new director will take us next. Despite its deliberate slow pacing, this flows from scene to scene whilst imprinting images into my mind that I won’t soon forget.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘Beginning’ is available to watch on MUBI

Review – ‘Beginning’

Reviewed online (via MUBI), February 1st, 2021. Rating: TBC. Running time: 130 min.

PRODUCTION: A MUBI release of a First Picture, Georgian National Film Centre, OFA & Zadig Films production. Producers: Ilan Amouyal, Steven Darty, Adrien Dassault, Tamar Golava, Rati Oneli, Carlos Reygadas, Gaetan Rousseau, Nino Shengelaia & David Zerat.

CREW: Director: Dea Kulumbegashvili. Screenplay: Rati Oneli & Dea Kulumbegashvili. Cinematography: Arseni Khachaturan. Editing: Matthieu Taponier. Music: Nicolas Jaar.

CAST: Ia Sukhitashvili, Rati Oneli, Kakha Kintsurashvili, Saba Gogichaishvili, Ia Kokiashvili, Mari Kopchenovi & Giorgi Tsereteli.

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