Gardens in Autumn

By Rob McCrae

gardens-in-autumn-otar-iosseliani.jpgGardens in Autumn, 2006

Georgian auteur Otar Iosseliani remains a genuine maverick of the movies

Dressed all in black and blazing through cigarettes like a teenager, 73 year old Otar Iosseliani remains a filmmaker with a maverick streak, fearless and outspoken but making films of a playful beauty. His latest, Gardens in Autumn is sparse on dialogue, incoherent and yet somehow utterly enchanting to watch.

Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, Iosseliani originally studied at the State Conservatory but followed his true métier at the local Gruzia Film studios, graduating with a diploma in film direction. His education coincided with a shift in the Soviet film industry which was attempting to drift away from its propaganda based output and offer a more tolerant future to prospective film-makers.

None of which was likely to resonate with Iosseliani who had his debut feature Aprili (1961) banned by the Communist party for undue formalism.

As a result he decided to give up film entirely, first becoming a sailor and then taking a job in a metal factory, a brief sabbatical which ended when he returned to direct Falling Leaves (1966) which immediately landed a special prize at Cannes. Despite this success Pastorale (1976) was similarly prohibited and Iosseliani decided he’d had enough, fleeing to France in the early Eighties to continue his creative drive.

There his reputation grew, Pastorale took home a major prize at the Berlin Festival, and later films like Chasing Butterflies (1992) and Monday Morning (2002) both gained international awards. Undoubtedly fascinating both behind the camera and in person, Iosseliani has delivered, with Gardens in Autumn, a political comedy that shows he’s lost none of his touch, especially when it comes to dressing middle aged men in tights and a skirt.

Rob McCrae: Is this film concerned with one man’s rebellion?

Otar Iosseliani: Yes in a certain way, why not? But really I’d say it’s more of a fable. A fable that hasn't got any roots in today's reality, if you can consider (Greek philosopher) Diogenes as a rebellion. He wanted nothing, he lived in a barrel. When Alexander the Great came to see him he wanted Diogenes to respect him greatly but the only thing that Diogenes said was, “could you move a little that way, you're blocking my sunlight.” The idea that my film could be seen as rebellion reminded me of this story. It's about someone who has got rid of the heavy weight of being a leader. It's a film about living your life again and how you can grasp happiness with those around you who love you.

gardens-in-autumn-otar-iosseliani-2.jpgGardens in Autumn, 2006

RM: It also touches on the ineptness of politicians?

OI: Yes. They're all inept. They're all slaves to their own desires and to the illness of wanting power. Based on that it is a political film, but the word politics has lost its sense today. According to Aristotle politics is about living in society. So if you think about it in his terms then, yes, it is a political film.

RM: The crucial role is that of the mother (played in drag by veteran actor Michel Piccoli).

OI: Piccoli is very friendly and accomplishes the part of a woman very well. For me it's like a bouquet of all the actors’ personalities which are all in harmony with each other. You need to forget that Piccoli is someone extraordinary. He was so modest, unpretentious and easy going, all rare qualities among actors. Normally actors are ambitious, capricious, really a pain in the arse. For example, Catherine Deneuve was unbearable on set. She always worried about her hair, was surrounded by her own people, just to say something quite banal, nothing else. I prefer to work with normal characters.

RM: Is it hard to get your films made?

OI: No, because as long as someone needs these kinds of films I’ll carry on making them. What I call a wide audience is not a point of reference for me. My producers are adorable, they love cinema, and they’re not thieves or dictators. They don't demand the moon. In such situations one can still do something.

RM:: ‘…to smell the roses’ is an English phrase that refers to the point when you stand back and view your life up until that moment. Did you have this in mind when writing the script?

OI: Smell the roses is good. I’m going to tell you a story. A story about a man who hides in the back of a lorry that is transporting perfume. When it finally gets to the destination and they pull open the doors the man is so overcome that he can’t wait to get out and the first thing he says is “just give me some shit to smell’. Everything, you see, is relative.

Gardens in Autumn is released soon by Artificial Eye.

Rob McCrae works and writes for Curzon cinemas.