Written by Patrick Hao
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? That is the question as title of the film and the ethos of Georgian director’s Aleksandre Koberidze’s second feature. What he is really asking is what do we see when we look at everyday things – whether people, objects, forces – that mundanely fills in the periphery of our lives.
At the center of Koberidze’s two-and-a-half-hour mini epic, is a magical realist romance. We meet Lisa (Oliko Barbakadze) and Giorgi (Giorgi Ambroladze) as they quite literally bump into each other in a twee-est of meet cutes. They agree to go on a date. And when I say meet, I mean that the director, Koberidze decides to only shoot them from the knees down. He does not want the audience to get too familiar with these faces because soon, through a “curse”, their appearances completely change. Now Lisa and Giorgi are played by Ani Karseladze and Giorgi Borchorishvilli respectively. Not only that, Lisa, a pharmacist, and Giorgi, a soccer player, have completely forgotten their professional skills. More importantly, Lisa and Giorgi will not recognize each other at their meet up for their date.
While this is the central plot point that binds the film together, maybe only 30% of the film’s total run time is devoted to the actual progression of this story. Koberidze becomes prone to tangents, underscored by the director’s own coy narration of the things around him. His wandering camera eye becomes interested in World Cup fever, dogs, children playing soccer, and rambling rivers. Oftentimes, the camera remains wide with minimal movement, allowing action to move away from the center frame. He invites the viewer’s eye to wander and really explore what they’re thinking. I often found myself wondering whether the objects coming into frame were purposeful or just happenstance.
In a sense, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is about the city of Kuitsai, whose old architecture makes it seem like a city stuck in time. Through the film, we slowly seep in the landscape of the city, one that is punctured by a roaring river and two bridges. The city, the tangents, the feeling of floating, all leads to a magical dream-like quality to the whole film. This film is actually quite comparable to the HBO show How To with John Wilson without being cinema verité.
It would all be more effective if these moments were not punctured by the incessant narration by Koberidze. At times, he offers funny wry remarks. But, when he digresses into a meta meditation on narrative and his own existential crisis, he undercuts the ethos of the film. Rather than an exploration of the beauty of the everyday and how magical it can be to be mundane, the last few moments of narration come close to just becoming an exercise in a filmmaker’s insecurities. Other than that, What Do We See When Look at the Sky is an incredibly charming and winsome film that comes close to justifying its full 150-minute run time. Sometimes its good to just stop and look up at the sky.
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky Trailer
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is currently available in limited in theatrical release.