Saturday, July 14, 2012

Otar Iosseliani | Ap'rili (April)

the furniture movers
by Douglas Messserli

Otar Iosseliani and Erlom Akhvlediani (writers), Otar Iosseliani (director) Ap’rili (April) / 1961, released 1972

In Georgian director Otar Iosseliani’s short film from 1961, April, just as the name of the month suggests, young love is in the air. The young lovers living in the decaying city, however, have little place to go, and, as they painfully leave each other in the morning, they seek out alleyways, hallways, and even small corners of the busy city in order to kiss goodbye.

      Iosseliani’s world, however, is seemingly an absurd one. Dozens of young men, all almost identically dressed in black, suspendered pants and white shirts are presumably on their way to work—apparently at the new construction site of a large housing development at the edge of the city. Musicians appear in nearly every window and on every street (reminding me a bit of Armenian director, Don Askarian's The Musicians). A muscle builder lifts weights in an open window. But the most inexplicable group of city dwellers are numerous older men rushing about with remnants of furniture: hat racks, chairs, small tables, etc. Each enters his small room to deposit his finds or new purchases, only to seemingly scurry out again to bring back more of the absurd treasures.

      The young lovers are intruded upon by the music and, most importantly, these busybody movers and their ilk. They have nowhere to go but into the country, where they meander about the beautiful tree surrounded by cows and goats.

      Thus the director establishes in an almost dialogue-free fable that the old city is a world in which it is difficult to be in love.

      Soon, however, Iosseliani turns his attention to the large housing units, showing us their development in just a few frames, as they are converted from cement and lumber into rather ugly fortresses into which the city musicians, dancers, and even the muscle-builder suddenly converge. The young lovers have finally found a space, sitting on the floor of their empty apartment in a kind of mindless swoon. Their kisses light up the overhead bulb, while the faucet miraculously flows, and the stove jets come alive in flame. The musicians play in joyous rapture until suddenly they are drowned out: the furniture movers have arrived, dragging in all their wood-wrought possessions and the glasses, plates, cups, vases and objects to be placed into and around these homely creations.

     One of the most nefarious of these object movers, a neighbor of the lovers, goes about peeking into the key locks of his neighbors, only to discover that the lovers have not only failed to lock their doors, but have nothing to protect within—not even a bed. Intruding upon their lives once more, he draws them out into the hall to show them their elderly neighbors busily washing up their glassware in rooms stuffed with chairs, tables, cupboards and other menacing “things.” The young lovers cannot even comprehend what he is showing them, and return happily to their empty rooms.

     Outraged by their inability to understand, the busybody neighbor confers with other tenants, and in a short while brings the couple a present of an overstuffed chair.

      The appreciative couple brings in the object, and before long we see beside it a small makeshift table. Within days, they purchase couches, beds, and tables; they collect glass, purchase a vacuum cleaner, clocks, and other noisy conveniences, which they proceed—all at the same time to test—creating a racket of noise that even the busybody furniture mover above them cannot abide. Their apartment has become so overstuffed with objects that there is hardly room to move.

     Now the time has come to clean everything, and they, like the elderly couple shown them before, are busy shining up their glassware, dusting off their objects. When the young girl goes to change the flower vase however, the faucet refuses to cooperate. A quick kiss from her husband has no effect. Another kiss buss does nothing further. Before long he has dropped and broken a drinking cup. She, about to break the vase in anger, thinks again before doing in the expensive object, taking out her anger in plates instead. For the first time In Iosseliani’s comedic statement, the couple speak, garbling out their anger in Georgian: we have need for a translation. They are now clearly an angry married couple at the fight. The busybody from above drops down to tell them to be quiet, only fanning the flames of their rage.

     The musicians no longer play, the dancer cannot dance, even the body-builder has seemed to have given up his fit routine. Instead, in room after crowded room, we see men and women sitting around their electric fans, their radios, amongst the skeletons of wooden possessions. Suddenly, the power goes out, the lights in every window go black. Slowly, one by one, the residents light lamps and candles, returning to their former or simpler lives. One by one the musicians begin to play, the ballet dancer returns to her routine, the body builder picks up his irons.

     The formerly loving couple is still at war, but gradually, little by little, they move across their room of chairs and beds nearer and nearer to each other, finally coming once more into contact. With a kiss, the light switches on, the faucet flows, the stove lights up. A photograph they have hung upon the wall of their old, ramshackle city dwelling reminds them of what they previously had. Piece by piece, we see the couple’s furniture being tossed out the window, the busybody furniture mover scurrying out to check out what might be salvageable.

     The couple returns to the country paradise to which they once escaped, only to find that the tree near to which they kissed has been cut down—presumably to create more furniture. No matter, they are now free of possessions, in love once more.

      It is hard to find any overt political commentary in Iosseliani’s gentle satire. Yet the movie was not permitted to be released for eleven years, forcing Iosseliani to temporarily give up film-making from 1963-1965, during which he worked as a sailor on a fishing boat and at a metallurgical factory. When his 1975 film, Pastaorali, was similarly shelved, the director left his native land for France.

Los Angeles, July 13, 2012

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