George Ovashvili Interview – Director of ‘Beautiful Helen’ / Available On Streaming Rental or Purchase

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When I first heard of George Ovashvili’s film called Beautiful Helen, I expected something more akin to a coming of age story and was rather surprised to see a humorous film about creative and existential crises. In it, 25-year-old Helen (Natia Chikviladze) returns home to rural Georgia, after studying in the US, to find everything static and unchanged except for her. Through the optics of an immigrant returning to a home that no longer belongs to them, the film explores both the interior and exterior struggles of what it’s like to be young in Georgia today. There’s a social truth there, but Beautiful Helen doesn’t stay within realistic remits for long; when the protagonist meets a film director in his midlife crisis, Gabo (Dimitri Khvtisiashvili), who’s struggling with his own creative block, they manage to conjure up a world together through the power of filmmaking. They scout locations, discuss the script, and reflect on the meaning of life and love, together. 

Earlier this year, we met up with Giorgi—or George, as he’s ended up being known as, due to a post-1989 passport mix-up he recounted to me at the beginning of our interview—and talked about the origins of his new film and his role as part of contemporary Georgian cinema’s canon. 

Projektor: How is making a fourth feature film different from making a first feature film, for you?

George Ovashvili: You know, I always used to think that the hardest part was to make [your] first longform film. I had a very good friend, a famous Georgian director, Levan Zakareishvili, who passed away many years ago [2006], and was one of the firsts in the new generation that went to Cannes. When I was preparing my first film [The Other Bank] he asked me, “Giorgi, are you afraid to make your first film?” I said, “Yeah!” And he said something I remember to this day: “You have to be scared. If you don’t care, you can never love your first film.” So when I’m shooting a film now, I’m always asking myself, oh my God, what am I doing now? What is this? Why do I do that? But even if I can do this, who needs this? I have these questions in mind all the time. But the fourth film, it’s kind of similar to my first film, because my feeling was that I’m starting again. 

How so? In terms of filmmaking, or maybe existentially?

It’s like I finished something in my life. I did a trilogy [with my three previous films] about the modern history of my country, which was the hardest part because Georgia gained independence [in 1918], we had a few wars during this period [the Georgian–Armenian War in 1918], a civil war and occupation of our country’s biggest big part [Soviet rule up to 1990], et cetera. But when I completed this trilogy, I asked myself, “Did I say everything that I wanted to say?” And the answer was no, there was a lot of brilliant material still, untouched. I somehow felt that I had to stop there. Because my main characters from those films, their lives somehow got to me. And somehow, it was like I became those characters. Especially the third film [Khibula], which is about the tragic life of our first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who died in absolutely unknown circumstances—he was shot in the head, and even now there’s no explanation as to why.

And somehow, this negative energy from these characters got to me and I felt that something happened in my life. And honestly, I never say [this], but there was a moment I attempted suicide, which is very unusual for me as a person who never understood why people would do that. One day I was up in the mountains alone, and I thought that I’d go one way and I would not come back. In the night, I tripped and fell from a pile of rocks, and somehow survived because there was one stray dog who was following me all day, and then showed me the road to the nearest village, three, four hours on the road. But after that, I felt that I had to somehow cut everything and finish everything, and to start anew, a new life. 

I’m a bit shocked, because these are images that we also see in Beautiful Helen, but with much more emotional distance. Was the process of making this film more complicated for you, emotionally?

No, no, look, this was, as I said, a very personal story, especially when I was writing. It was very personal because at that time, I did not know whether it was going to be a film. But as soon as I started the shooting, somehow I cut it off, and the personal, emotional part stayed just behind me.

Love is very hard to describe, you know? And if it’s possible to do so, then it’s not love.

And what about the significance of Helen of Troy and the mythology around this woman that comes to change everything, did you have any personal connection to the myth before? 

No, it was like Helen always was for me more like a symbol of that woman than an actual woman, in many ways. First of all, she was the most beautiful in mythological times, the biggest war then started because of her. But this Helen was kind of a symbol for me, which follows us all the time and can change our lives.

I’ve been thinking about these women characters, like Helen of Troy—they don’t seem to do much. They’re just there. And all the men, supposedly they all love her, but we don’t know whom she loves. So you’re thinking about the idea of love as the meaning of life in your film. What is this kind of love your characters are trying to get at?

That was the main question for me as well, and it’s a very hard one to answer even now. I don’t think that anybody can answer that question clearly. I have no idea. Love is very hard to describe, you know? And if it’s possible to do so, then it’s not love. That’s why in my film, there are just questions and no answers. 

Okay, but why do we have the director’s wife in the picture, if she’s not the source of that love? 

I’m not sure that our main character is making the right choices. He’s stuck somewhere in life. He hasn’t got any clearer understanding of what he’s choosing. But look, we feel something is missing between those two characters. The hardest part in any relationship, in my opinion, is when you lose the connection because of the language; you start speaking different languages. You may love each other, but you can’t understand each other.

Do you think that’s something that can be fixed between people?

Is she good or bad, or am I good or bad? Doesn’t matter. Maybe both of you are excellent. You can’t talk. You can’t say what you feel, what’s hurting you. That’s the biggest problem for Gabo, even if has a family, he’s alone. He’s reaching out, he needs help, he’s trying to grasp at something, and here’s where Helen comes in. They can talk about cinema, and that can save him.

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