Bebia, à mon seul désir − Mapping Mythologies
30 January 2021
For each of the features in competition, IFFR asked a critic, writer, academic or programmer to write a short reflection in a personal capacity. The resulting series of ‘Appreciations’ aims to encourage viewers − and filmmakers − at a time when there is no physical festival. Carmen Gray shines a light on Bebia, à mon seul désir.
Everybody must someday die — and nowhere are they more aware of it than in Mingrelia, a rainy province in the west of Georgia. “Where there is a cradle, a coffin will follow”, says a local in Bebia, à mon seul désir, the directorial feature debut of Juja Dobrachkous, as mourners wail. But rituals ensure the continuity of an ancestral way of life in Mingrelia. At least, they did before globalisation claimed its young. Ariadna (Anastasia Davidson), a teenage fashion model, returns from abroad for her grandmother’s funeral and resents that, as the youngest relative, the ‘village nonsense’ of a demanding burial tradition falls to her. She undertakes the 25-kilometre journey by foot, unwinding a spool as she goes, to stretch a thread from Bebia’s hospital deathbed to her corpse, to ensure her soul doesn’t get lost. Strangers along the way offer a lantern-lit meal and respite from a storm, as a gale threatens to blow their haystacks away into a river gorge – a universe where community cohesion is but a thin buffer against nature’s fatal fury.
What does it mean to inhabit a myth? Amid dark shadows and tightly framed, constricted spaces, the cord Ariadna maps evokes family tensions over where her relatives and countrypeople end and her independence, or isolation, begins. It’s the lineage that holds successive generations together in collective belonging; it’s also the bind of gendered tradition and expectation that seeks to prevent a remaking of horizons anew according to personal ambition. An interminable round of domestic chores awaits her should she become pregnant; all ‘for nothing’, like the women before her, her grandmother had warned her. Nor have things gone better for her mother, set to divorce and embittered. Like her namesake in Greek mythology, Ariadna has done her all to plot a way out of this confusing labyrinth. She has broken from an old world of churches and choral songs to one of catwalks, where images and commerce rule supreme. There is little less timeless than the fashion industry, after all, and its seductive veneer of reinvention stories, as ephemeral as each season's new collection - whether or not she can base a future upon it.
Carmen Gray is a freelance journalist and film critic from New Zealand. She has published in The New York Times, the Guardian, The Observer and Sight & Sound.
‘Appreciations’ aims to encourage viewers − and filmmakers − at a time when there is no physical festival. Discover more short reflections on the features in competition.