Alexandre Baev’s documentary, Once Upon Another Time, was one of the films featured at the 1st International Documentary Film Festival in Georgia. I wanted to get an authentic feel for the city and this film provided a depressingly realistic view to the dark culture of another Tbilisi.
The film begins with the faces of the people set against a backdrop of colorful poverty and stark realism. After a quick meal, a woman is witnessed intensely cleaning her teeth with her fingers. Should it be expected that women who live in such conditions should not want to be hygenic? Was she only doing this because she was being filmed? Stray felines. Layered wooden walls. Nature nursery. Whenever I see a multitude of cats, my eyes immediately travel to their respective corners to scan the environment for those pesky little sneaks otherwise known as mice. Though none were seen in the neighborhood of Another Time, my eyes did fall upon the basic living conditions of the people. Makeshift homes, old appliances and crowded living arrangements were in abundance as were the felines. The children, of which there were also a fair amount, entertained themselves with sticks and the adventures of the world outdoors. On the rainy days, the children squatted in the doorways of their homes with eyes pleading the rain to take a vacation. When nature failed to live up to her expectation of childcare provider, the children played with one another.
Attacked by education, little boy fights back – finally. 2 little girls and a little boy are playing together outside and the little girls decide to amuse themselves by hitting the little boy over the head with a book. He takes it, he takes it, wait, he’s had enough and hits the little girls back. As a mother and teacher, I wanted to jump through the screen and tell them to READ instead of hit, but I couldn’t. All I could do was sit there and observe and wander if they actually knew how to read and if anyone had ever read to them. That question was soon answered.
Market Bitches don’t need an education. Minutes after the beating by book (gotta say that it looked the weight of a coloring book) a woman and girl are filmed sitting on a chair in the middle of the neighborhood reading. #Oneofthemostpoignantscenesofthefilm? Probably. My reactionary depression decreased a bit at this point as I saw small bullet holes of hope beaming through this seemingly hopeless situation. Yet, dark reality reared it’s ugly head and the cameo appearance of the “market bitch” was soon to be seen. Camera pans to little girl washes clothes in a basin, camera pans out to a man standing there watching her wash these now water-weighted clothes, man does nothing to help, girl is seen carrying a nearly 5 liter bottle of water to rinse the clothes, she struggles with the heavy bottle, man labels her a market bitch, presumably due to her incompetence. Really? Really. Reality? Reality.
So, then, who asks for the 20 Lari? Who needs it? I’ll let you guess. Is it the woman who sells fabric from her home to the community? Is it the little children who want to buy sweets? Or, is it the man who wants to go back to his village and needs the 20 Lari for transportation costs? If I told you that someone exclaimed, “She is not normal!” could you then figure out who asks for the 20 Lari (which is roughly 12 US dollars)?
“A man should not take money from his wife.” Soooooooo? Yes, it was the man who asked for the 20 Lari. Though he had no job, no money and seemed to not be concerned with finding employment or a source of income other than his wife, the woman was referred to as not normal because she was so adamant about not giving money to her husband. That’s it. That’s the culture. That’s the reality. Now, I know it. Not so sure if I really wanna know now. It’s too dark, really dark, really sad, really depressing. Once Upon Another Time, I didn’t know.