Georgian feature film captures real-life issues of Brighton Beach immigrants

Recently I received an email from my friend, artist and filmmaker Everett Aison, regarding a movie called Brighton 4and. While Everett isn’t inclined to exaggerate, that message was all caps: YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE. Immediately, I located a new DVD version of Kino Lorber.

Brighton 4and is Georgian director Levan Koguashvili’s third and final feature film, written by Latvian-born filmmaker Boris Frumin. It was Georgia’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the last Oscars. Filmed in Georgia, Bulgaria and Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, it won several awards at film festivals.

The film features a most interesting lead actor, Levan Tediashvili, a well-known former Olympian, freestyle wrestling champion who, at 74, holds many 1970s awards for martial art wrestling and sambo, but he has few cinematic references. Still, he absolutely dominates this movie.

Tediashvili plays Kakhi, a former wrestling champion, who is first seen at a crowded sports bar in Tbilisi, Georgia. There, the men are playing a game show and the atmosphere is tense. Men, well, people in general, get desperate when they gamble and then lose money they don’t have. It’s a theme in Brighton 4and. Soon, Kakhi is on a plane to Brooklyn where her adult son, Soso, has gambling debts he cannot pay.

Kakhi blends into Georgian immigrant life in the Brighton Beach neighborhood and goes out of his way to help Soso. It’s not a complicated plot, but it’s a great movie. Instead of being plot-driven, it’s a study of real-life personalities and challenges. There are the good people, the hard workers and the helpers. There are also liars and cheaters. We see how helpless immigrants can be when others are willing to exploit their vulnerabilities, especially if the immigrants are illegal.

What makes Brighton 4and such a powerful film is its naturalism, reminiscent of Italian neorealism, and its unassuming yet heartfelt plot. The actors are believable, a group of players willing to show warts and all. There is a discriminatory use of Georgian and Russian music which offers fleeting but deeply touching scenes.

Director Koguashvili, who studied film in Georgia as well as NYU, and writer Frumin also worked together on a 2013 Georgian film titled Blind Dates. It’s a much-loved comedy about a fortysomething who still lives with his parents who are looking for true love. To date, I have not been able to locate a projection copy.

As early as 1930, Georgian filmmakers were producing high quality films. Mikhail Kalatozov made Salt for Svanetia in 1930 and the classic The Cranes Are Flying in 1959. The Color of Pomegranates by Sergei Parajanov on an 18and The Armenian Poet of the Century has captivated international audiences since 1969. Georgian cinema has a rich heritage and it’s great to see that there are astute Georgian filmmakers working today and continuing this important work.

Audrey Kupferberg is a retired film and video archivist and appraiser. She is a Distinguished Lecturer and former Director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-author of several entertainment biographies with her late husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

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