Julie Bertuccelli's "Since Otar Left" is a small, wonderful drama about three women: elderly Eka, her middle-aged, long-suffering daughter Marina, and Marina's daughter, serious Ada, a student at the University. The film is set in a crumbling neighborhood in Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet Rebublic of Georgia, and the hard times that have fallen on the area are abundantly clear-from the women's tired faces and absent men to the frequent blackouts and half-completed concrete housing projects that line the streets.
The women all suffer from the pronounced absence of Otar, Eka's preferred child and oldest son. A doctor, he has left his country for Paris, from where he is able to send money home by working as a construction worker. Eka (90-year old Esther Gorintin) longs for her son; she waits eagerly for his letters and lords news of him over her daughter, Marina (Nino Khomassouridze), who clearly does not compare to the absent idolized son. The two women bicker frequently, and from one quick scene, it is easy to intimate a lifetime of fights and frustration. A generation removed, Ada (Dinara Droukarova) appears amused by her grandmother. She reads to her grandmother, massages her feet, and smiles indulgently when the old woman rants about her amazing son.
Later, when it becomes clear that Otar will not return home, Marina and Ada take drastic steps to protect Eka from the truth. The consequences of their actions affect them all in surprising ways, with a moving ending that could not have been foreseen until the moment it happens.
The wonder in this film lies the in performances. Round, stooped Gorintin, whose combination of snowy white hair, oval eyes, and chubby cheeks resembles a naughty chipmunk. Early in the film, she acts almost childlike, but later it appears that this was a ruse. In one telling scene, she buys two loose cigarettes from a street vendor and rides the ferris wheel. Sitting on top, she takes a slow puff from her cigarette and smiles. It's a richly satisying moment to see a woman nearing the end of her life with a secret pleasure.
Frowning, fierce Dinara Droukarova (discovered by Vitali Kanevsky at age 14) is always fascinating to look at. An unnatural beauty, she seems to always be at work, even when standing still. All along, she is a carrying a secret self that does not reveal itself a second too soon.