Birds chirping, water flowing, and intermittent rain pouring, make up most of the audio in George Ovashvili’s exquisitely lush drama “Simindis kundzuli” [Eng. Title: Corn Island] – there are hardly any dialogues, and yet it sends viewers on a soul-searching exercise through the sheer eloquence of the messages that it conveys visually. This is profound and purposeful cinema, pure and simple!
The river Enguri flows from the Caucasus mountains to the Black Sea, forming a de-facto border separating the breakaway republic of Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia. Little islands spring up in the river between the end of spring and summer, before rains and floods arrive to wash them away. These temporary river islands with nutrient-rich soil aren’t contested by any of the parties involved in their long-running frozen conflict; the Georgian, Abkhazian, and Russian soldiers mainly patrol the river to try and prevent (or facilitate) militants crossing the border. But some poor peasants use the natural phenomenon to claim, plant, and harvest a corn crop while these islands last.
The film observes an elderly Abkhazian man (Ilyas Salman) in engaging detail, as he lays claim to an island by constructing a shack upon it, and plant and tend his crop on the tiny patch of land in the middle of the river. He labours at his task with an air of stoic heroism, given his age and necessity. He is assisted in the endeavour by his granddaughter (Mariam Buturishvili), who’s probably also his only remaining relative.
Their relationship is as pristine and natural as the majestic landscape surrounding them, both of whose tranquillity are only momentarily disrupted by the reality of cracking gunfire and patrolling boats. The girl, in the throes of puberty, catches the eye of young soldiers and militants alike who venture near the island, and even though still a child, she could sense that there’s something different about the way men look at her now, and begins to like the attention directed at her.
The film, whilst depicting the protagonists confront the odds to reap their harvest, ponders deeply into the temporariness of our very being; the notion of ‘owning’ a piece of land, the idea of nationhood – distinguishing us from the rest, and nature’s abundant capacity to recycle, rejuvenate, and propagate life in all its forms unabashedly, and unsparingly. The Georgian film might have been intended for an audience close to home, but it also carries a universal, existential theme.
The film pits man at his elemental state, devoid of trappings such as nationality, kinship, and entitlement, against the forces of life and nature. Elemér Ragályi’s breathtaking cinematography provides the grand canvas in which Ovashvili creates his meditative poem, that in a manner evoke the works of a Theodoros Angelopoulos or Béla Tarr. If you could muster the patience to sit through a hut being built in almost real-time, a patch of land being dug up for cultivation, and two characters lying down and staring into the sky without saying a word, you’ll gradually but surely become convinced that you’d been watching one of the finest and most ‘engaging’ films ever made in the year. This simple yet beautiful production from Georgia, Germany, France, Czech Republic, and Kazakhstan is without a doubt, Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Mariam Buturishvili
There is brief nudity from Mariam Buturishvili when changing out of her wet clothes, and while taking a dip in the river.