A feminist depiction of Soviet womanhood: “Some Interviews on Personal Matters” at the Samizdat Festival of Central and Eastern European Film5 min read

 In Caucasus, Review, Reviews

Originally released in 1978, director Lana Gogoberidze’s comedy-drama about what it means to be a working woman has stood the test of time. In this digitally remastered edition, Gogoberidze’s experimental filmwork and fine storytelling are displayed at their finest, introducing a new generation to one of Georgia’s most important female directors.  

Sofiko (Sofiko Chiaureli, best known for her work in Sergei Parajanov’s Colour of Pomegranates) is a middle-aged journalist who spends the majority of her time passionately interviewing the everyday woman, as well as exposing corruption and abuse within the patriarchal Soviet system. Seemingly in possession of the perfect homelife — namely a good apartment, a happy marriage, and two children she loves dearly — tensions within the family begin to surface when Sofiko refuses a promotion which, though offering a higher salary and more time at home, would end her writing career. When she discovers her husband Archili (Gia Badridze) is cheating on her, Sofiko is forced to re-examine her life and what it means to be a woman in Soviet Georgia. 

A feminist perspective is at the core of Some Interviews on Personal Matters, the film operating as an analysis of the double burden thrust upon Soviet Georgian women. Women from all walks of life are shown on-screen via flashbacks to Sofiko’s prior interviews. There is the grandmother who wants help moving into a care home because, though she has a family, she has no one to talk to. There is the woman who laughs at the idea of having a husband, finding more freedom in staying single. There is the weaver with three kids who loves the Soviet system and her work, yet doesn’t get the concept of free time when Sofiko asks her what she does during such moments: “What a question! I work hard in the factory, then work at home, even watch TV doing some housework.” What is made clear throughout the film is Soviet women, including Sofiko, are expected to do it all, have a successful career while still being the one to take care of all the household duties and responsibilities. This double burden is perfectly summed up by an allegorical tale told by Sofiko’s photographer and companion Irakli (Janri Lolashvili) half way through the film. As he tells it, there was once a kind man who owned a donkey. Everytime the pair came across someone who was tired, the man put them on the donkey, until eventually the donkey asked the man: “Can I also be carried by the donkey?” Much like the donkey, Sofiko gets no rest, with the promotion her husband wants her to take coming at the cost of the job she loves so dearly.

Gogoberidze’s cinematographic choices, deftly fulfilled by Nugzar Erkomaishvili, also illustrate her focus on understanding women and their personal lives. The film is characterised by lingering shots of women’s faces, zooming up close until the audience can see every wrinkle and emotion portrayed. 

In addition to its feminist themes, the film holds a secondary message about the generational trauma wrought by the Soviet purges. Haunting Sofiko throughout the film are memories of her mother’s arrest and subsequent deportation, her time in an orphanage before finding a home with her two aunts, and the anxious reunion with her mother, now a stranger, years later. This backstory was derived from director Gogoberidze’s own life — after her father was murdered in 1937 as part of the Great Purge and her mother exiled to a prison camp for 12 years, Gogoberidze was sent to an orphanage before likewise being taken in by her aunts. Towards the end of the film, a character remarks that there is a generational difference that has allowed Sofiko to fight for the rights of a village school against a corrupt landowner, for “your generation hasn’t lived through fear.” And yet, Sofiko’s fears derived from her mother’s deportation linger to the present day, affecting how she relates to her husband and children, and to the Soviet authorities in general. 

Though dealing with dramatic concepts, Some Interviews on Personal Matters finds humour in the absurdity of Soviet life. One of the best scenes occurs when Sofiko, shopping for groceries, comes across a woman who switches between queues in order to keep her places in multiple lines at once, causing conflict and chaos as she whirls her way from one stall to the next. Another source of humour lies in the witty, poetic dialogues — for example, in describing the level of intelligentsia in Georgia’s capital, Sofiko’s aunt states: “If you throw a pebble in Tbilisi, it’s bound to hit a professor.” In another scene, Archili, an ant psychologist, notes that ants can fly, but “only when they’re in love.”

The film was digitally restored in 2016 by an international collaboration between Gosfilmofond in Russia, L’Immagine Ritrovata in Italy, and the Arsenal — Institute for Film and Video Art in Germany. Based on a 35mm picture interpositive from the Russian edition of the film, and a 35mm magnetic soundtrack of the final mix from JSC Georgian Film, it can feel as if the film is dubbed. However, the beautiful colour restoration more than makes up for any small audio quirks. 

Some Interviews on Personal Matters will be screened on 14 September at the CCA Glasgow. It will also be available to view online at Klassiki from 12 September to 5 October. Find full event details here.

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