QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM LOCARNO
And it all ends in tears. The last film I watched at the joyous Locarno Film Festival is a slow-burn weepie about the price people pay for living in secret. Using a generous two-hour runtime to fully examine the difficulties of living authentically in a small village in Georgia, Wet Sand has a deeply understated yet ultimately rather effective approach to storytelling.
The title refers to a small cafe on the Black Sea, where manly-men tease owner Amnon (Gia Agumava) over his “pisspoor beer.” This is the kind of neighborhood where everyone knows each other to the point where you can’t cough in the distance without somebody commenting upon it. The fault-line that lies behind the generally friendly people is revealed when the local loner Eliko dies by suicide. He is so disliked that nobody wants to bury him, leading to Amnon having to finally step up.
He is joined in his efforts by Moe (Bebe Sesitashvili), who immediately sticks out of place thanks to her ice-white hair. She normally lives in the more liberal Tbilisi, and is struck by how stuck in their ways the people are. The wider context is referred to on TV, reporting on both Family Day celebrations — an Orthodox counteraction to the International Day Against Homophobia — and the effects of climate change, burning forests and polluting the Black Sea. The message is obvious: governments across Europe are cruelly trying to legislate gay lives out of existence — from Russia to Hungary to Georgia — while completely ignoring the fact the Earth is on fire.
No one should have to live in secret, but many do, repressing an essential part of their personality in the process. In depicting this, there is an Ozu-like touch throughout the film, whether it’s the static frames, quiet performances or use of omission, suggesting a wellspring of emotion lingering just beneath the surface. This is a film filled with pregnant pauses, characters taking their time as they think of what to say and how to say it. They simply live in a world where some things are impossible to say out loud, their absence filling the air with a deep, awful sadness.
A timeless feel comes through the camerawork and settings, the film constantly returning us to the relentless waves of the ocean, which gives us all the potential for renewal and rebirth. Director Elene Naveriani is content to simply observe characters as they look at the sea, go for a swim or listen to music; allowing us to see the inner lives of those who must live under such repressive ideas. They also have a masterful command of parallel narratives, creating a tension between the world as it was, as it is, and how it could be in the future. While the film takes a while to come into its own, the intent is exceptionally clear, as is the final powerful message. While it might not light the country on fire like And Then We Danced (Levan Akin, 2019), it’s sure to start some more conversations about the need to treat LGBT people with the dignity they deserve.
Wet Sand plays in Concorso Cineasti del presente at Locarno Film Festival, running from August 4th to 15th.