"There is no Return to Anywhere"
The following is an interview with Otar Ioseliani conducted by
in San Francisco in 1991. The interview was first published in New York
by the Russian daily newspaper Novoie Russkoe Slovo, on September 11, 1993.
It has been translated from Russian into English by Nathan Lemkhin, and is
reproduced by Nostalghia.com with the kind permission of Mikhail Lemkhin.
Photo: © Mikhail Lemkhin / lemkhin.com.
OTAR IOSELIANI studied music, then graduated from the math department
of Moscow State University, but became a filmmaker. He was born and
raised in Tbilisi, where, after spending nine years in Moscow (five of
them at MGU and four at the State Institute of Cinema), he made three
excellent films: in 1968 – When Leaves Fall; three years later – There
Was a Singing Thrush; and in 1976 – The Pastoral . For the next
eight years, Otar could not make movies; then he became a Parisian,
and has now brought his fourth French film to the San Francisco Film Festival.
The name of the film is Chasing Butterflies. It is a bitter film; I
suspect it will be the last one in a series of Ioseliani films that
began with Favorites of the Moon.
According to Ioseliani, the destruction of traditional ways of life,
of cultural legacy and continuity, entails the destruction of culture.
This destruction begins with culture's material embodiments, from
household utensils and dining sets to art, together with its mission
of passing down spiritual information to future generations. Deprived
of that spiritual connection, of the spiritual experience accumulated
by their ancestors, people live as though in a vacuum, without a moral
frame of reference. That was the theme of Ioseliani's first Western
film, Favorites of the Moon. Life goes on, however, and Ioseliani
sadly examines these new people — comical and aggressive, cruel and
pathetic — making an honest attempt to understand how hopeless their
situation may be.
Andrei Tarkovsky, being a maximalist, agonized over the same problem:
In Nostalgia, Domenico sets himself ablaze, convinced that people's
link to Culture and God is lost forever, and Gorchakov dies while
trying to deliver a candle that he is carrying, to protect and
preserve the living flame, which can be extinguished not only by the
wind but even by his own breath; the flame links Gorchakov both to
Domenico and to Gorchakov's own ancestors — to his roots:
I'm a candle, at a banquet burnt.
Just collect the wax by early morn,
And this page will serve you as a guide:
How to weep and where to place your pride. 
Ioseliani filmed a documentary about a tiny village in Southern Italy
and a little Catholic monastery located a kilometer away from the
village. Submerging us into the monastery's unostentatious daily
life, its orderly routine existence, the film uncovers harmony and
structure behind the monotony. Ioseliani shows us how the five monks
of a little monastery (that is the title of the film — A Little
Monastery In Tuscany) who appear to be leading their own particular
lifestyle that is separate from the existence of the village, generate
structure and harmony for that neighboring village and the world
around them. Ioseliani does not make speeches, nor does he hold up
the village and the monastery as a model for the big world to follow.
He does not bang his fists on the table and shout that there are
people in today's times who still possess memory. He simply shows how
the flame is being kept alive. What's at issue is not a program of
action, but rather a symbol of faith.
Ioseliani's next film is also set in a small village. The name of the
film is Let There Be Light. The film is about the creation of a
world. The new world's creation turns out to be the destruction of
the cultural ethos of a tiny African village and a total
deindividualization of its inhabitants. The established life of these
amiable and naive people is eliminated by the coming 'civilization',
by an impersonal alternative order of things, rather than someone's
hostility or benevolence. A truck passes by, followed by another one;
farther in the distance, machines roar, woods are being cut; and then
— a whole culture ceases to exist. Gone are the miracles, animal
hunts, and healing herbs; the sorcery and shamanism; the fairy tales
and stories; the rules according to which their fathers and
grandparents lived; and the notions of what is beautiful and what is
ugly, what is right and what is shameful and dishonest. Gone is the
village itself, never to exist again.
Not long after Otar Ioseliani made his African film, I taped a
conversation that we had about the film, as well as about cinema in
general, and about that which shall never exist again. For certain
reasons, I did not publish it at that time, but now, after listening
to the tape, I see that Otar provides explain much of what will help
his viewers understand his films — both his old films and the ones
made after the conversation took place.
Mikhail Lemkhin: Otar, you have made your last three films in three
different countries — Favorites of the Moon in France, A Little
Monastery in Tuscany in Italy, and Let There Be Light in Senegal. You
know, what's surprising to me is that, in spite of the fact that you
choose to work with such culturally diverse material, your view does
not seem like a foreigner's or an outsider's view. And yet, these are
all still unmistakably "Ioseliani films."
Otar Ioseliani: It is the social fabric or the cultural milieu that
can change, but no changes occur in our criteria, our notions and
systems of values. It is known that our personalities get determined
by the age of six. And by eighteen or twenty, each of us is already a
fully shaped person with a hierarchy of values which is intrinsic to
him and which, apparently, will not change any more; although
modifications will be made in it depending on the experience that one
is destined to acquire. And if I was born in Tbilisi, in a particular
environment, with particular parents, and was molded by a particular
cultural stew — all of that can't be changed. But that a film made in
France comes out as though it were made by a Frenchman — that has to
do with something else, I think. What you're filming, if you're
attentive, will itself suggest how it should be filmed, and then the
very environment will enter the screen, with all the dimensions of
truth which it brings to your narrative. But I don't think that a
Frenchman could make a film like Favorites of the Moon; and I don't
think that an Italian could make a film like A Little Monastery in
Tuscany, and I don't think that the film that I made in Africa could
have been made by an African director. Out of the question. Because
that key that you use to open this or that page that the world
presents to you — it always stays the same, and the secret of your
vision — it dies with you. The whole set of standards, likes, and
dislikes which you attach to this or that context, that whole
conglomeration — this was all shaped a long time ago and is a part of
your ego. In that sense, it makes no difference whether you're
filming in Africa or in Italy. Your view is always with you. The
sense of a lack of ease is due to from something different, namely the
fact that you are unfortunately forced to film the life of other
people [other than your own], on the other side of the world.
[ What you're filming, if you're attentive,
will itself suggest how it should be filmed, and then
the very environment will enter the screen, with all the dimensions
of truth which it brings to your narrative. ]
ML: Otar, it's both like that and it isn't: Of course, each person
always carries such a key with them. The problem is that not every
key fits the life of a foreign country. Your key turned out to be
universal, you see? Plus — and this may be the main thing — you have
an interest for that foreign life. We know many people among the
émigrés, dozens or hundreds of them, whose key does not fit here — it
does not open anything, doesn't reveal anything. And sometimes they
don't even try to do it, they have no interest. But you may lose
whatever interest you've got left, too, if you try it once, then
twice, but the key that opened things back home will not open anything
OI: I think that it has to do with upbringing, Misha. If one
remembers people who traveled a lot, who lived in different countries,
they're usually people who considered the whole world to be worthy of
attention and respect; they were ready to learn and absorb new things.
That would be, say, Lawrence of Arabia... Or Pushkin, who was always
avid for more knowledge, always dreamed of traveling. With his
upbringing, his type of personality, he would have enjoyed living in
Italy or in France. Or Herzen, for instance. He felt great abroad,
in spite of ringing that Bell  of his so indefatigably. But then
there are people who isolate themselves. Having left a country, they
try to recreate it in a different place. They flock together and
cling to each other. It is particularly clear in the case of our
emigration wave. The older wave, given their culture and the
configuration of their brains, have perfectly blended into the French
milieu. While in our emigration, there is a large number of people
who perceive the world as an alien place and even fear it. There are
people who have lived abroad for ten years, and still don't know any
language but Russian, which is very sad.
ML: Otar, to what extent do you think your films are Italian,
African, French, and to what extent are they Georgian films? To put
it another way, to what extent do the problems which you speak of
reflect the problems of Georgia?
OI: My films are parables, after all, and the language of a parable
is — geared toward a certain kind of universality. Like my African
film — that could have been shot in Georgia. But it wouldn't have
been a pure experiment for a whole list of reasons...
ML: Which have to do with organization and censorship?
OI: No, no, no. The lab experiment would not be pure. That is, I
would be able to hear all kinds of regional feedback noises, and they
would interfere with the clarity of my diction...
ML: You're saying that these noises would distract you because, as
they would be intelligible to you, you'd attempt to make sense of
them, and thus, perhaps without realizing it, would modify your
OI: Yes, yes. And also, nothing occurs in Georgia in the pure form
that it takes in my African village; rather with overtones which
obscure the lucidity the narrative. A film about the deterioration of
culture, of cultural values and traditions, let's say, the destruction
of ideal ethos, could obviously have been made anywhere. But it
seemed to me that it was precisely there, in Africa, that I would be
able to make a film in a pure genre, in the language of a parable.
But that's me. An African lives in that world, and that is why it
would be impossible for him to reach that parabolic lucidity given
that material: It would be obscured by his knowledge of things. He
would not be able, for instance, to give a general idea of tradition,
right? In every place he would look for specific ethnographic traits,
the exact rituals and rites which mark that particular group or tribe.
If I decided to stay true to the ethnography of the place where I was
filming, it would hinder me: I would not be free, I would be
constantly corrected by the locals who would tell me: "This is the way
it's done, and not that way". Then the film would slip through my
fingers. Therefore, I purposely invented all the minor traditional
and ritualistic details, but had to do it in such a way that the
locals perceived them as believable. So that they played some people
from some country who do things that [way] and believed that this could
ML: You invented the rules of the game, but it was they who played
it, right? But you had to find people who could play your game
OI: Exactly. I came to Africa with the idea that such people should
exist somewhere. And if I hadn't been lucky, I would not have made
that film. My vision came from the literature that I have had the
chance to read, or, rather, from the essays written by the
missionaries. But since the demolition had already gone pretty far,
it was very hard to find a group of people who naturally existed
within the framework of their culture. What they play in the movie
could not have been acted — this is the way they really are. They are
cheerful, lively, not malicious, indisposed to lying or thievery.
They believe in the sacred forest, in the power of spirits... And the
relations between them are founded on full respect for each other, for
children (since children are destined to become adults and travel the
whole path), for the old. Only thirty to forty years ago, one could
find something comparable in Georgia, but not today. Culture, in the
sense of a well-constructed system of human relations, has collapsed
there. Maybe it was one of the last countries. But everything's
collapsed, practically, with the departure of the previous generation.
Now, all conversations on the subject pertain to nothing but history.
ML: So, while filming in Africa, you were thinking of Georgia?
OI: I filmed a fairy tale, or a parable, or a fable. And what those
people did had to fit their notions, correspond to their very
interior, if one can put it that way. One could not act unethically
toward the very structure of their life. They took part in my tale
without its purpose or contents, but each part had to be acceptable to
them. You could not offend their feelings or force them to do what
they were not used to doing. They were themselves.
ML: By the way, how do you usually work? Do you show the screenplay
to your actors?
OI: I try not let the actors read the screenplay. Having read the
screenplay, they usually see an angle to their role that I have no
ML: You know Tarkovsky worked that way as well? He suggested that
actors act only today's scene, react to the current situation. He
talked of how some of them resorted to various tricks to find out
something on top of today's role. For instance, Terekhova, when she
was cast in The Mirror.
OI: Oh yeah, that's terrible! That's the Stanislavsky Method — to
become embedded in the characters life... That's dreadful! If you are
making a movie, you should know what it is that you want it to be
about. The more the actor knows, the more he interferes with the
director, because he already acts out that resulting idea, that
knowledge of his character.
ML: Sorry, I distracted you from the subject of your film.
OI: I'll say one more thing: It is very important to believe that
you're addressing your message to someone who will understand it.
There's never a certainty that the viewers will necessarily understand
what you are saying to them, and yet you need to assume respect for
them. Maybe they'll have a different understanding of it; however,
each one will carry away a part of your attitude towards the
phenomenon of life. While such hope still exists among us, we can
work. If only one person sighs with you, then the work is worth it.
But as soon as that situation disappears — and that may happen in the
very near future — it's gonna be hard to make films just to make
films. There is an erroneous Soviet notion that art can be used to
shape people or set them on some track. Nonsense. It's just that
there's a circle of people who think the same way we do, and when I
read a book and find that I like it, why, I like it because these are
my feelings, only what a great, what a fantastic way the author has
found to phrase them!
ML: Sometimes, it seems like you hadn't thought or felt that way,
but you find out that you did. Only you didn't verbalize these
thoughts and feelings you had.
OI: Yes, yes, you didn't think them through in words... And so,
while such type of contact is possible, it is worth doing one's work.
It's even worth working in a way that makes life difficult.
ML: You know, sociologists say that you can make contact with those
within your circle and those just a little away. That refers to any
kind of contact — whether it's through art or politics. Your circle
and just a little further, and beyond there it's a different language.
Mixed notions on marginal territory can still exist, there language
can borrow concepts from both sides. But one more step — and
OI: Of course, it comes down to linguistics — if we are not speaking
the same language, then how is it possible for us to understand each
other. If by language one means a set of experiences. Indeed, we
orient ourselves towards people who have a set of standards and
criteria similar to ours, and it's exactly these people that
appreciate our work. Placed outside that circle, the work loses the
meaning that the author inserted in it. And, for all we know, it
could be that the versions of Homer's epics that have come down to us
were banal, repulsive, dishonest, distorted the truth, and destroyed
standards, and as a result weren't acceptable to the people of his
time. That could be, I say. But as time passed, the same text
entered a different sphere, and we gave it a different meaning.
ML: And it could even be that the text itself has influenced the
formation of later esthetic and historical notions.
OI: Could be. Possibly. It was already in existence as one of
life's phenomena that people interacted with... In any case, I think
that the text, having fallen out of the milieu where it could be read
correctly, and that is why I insist that the language of the fable is
most universal. Each person can attach his experience to a fable.
ML: Your African film comes maximally close to a fable. Do you
believe that it will be understood by local audiences in an adequate
OI: In a different way by everyone, of course: It'll be understood
in a certain way in Europe, and in a completely different way in
America; differently by blacks and differently by whites. For the
Georgians, it will be a film about Georgia; for the Russians, a film
about the destruction of the Russian village. And Europeans will
think: What have we done in Africa with our colonization!
ML: However, each work contains a seed, an initial impulse which
generally does not lie on its surface and is hard to define verbally,
but that impulse is the very embryo from which a film or a book
develops. In essence, it's that thing that makes you languish. A
person who has not made art his vocation will say: "I've got the blues
today," or snap his fingers, or attempt to rescue himself with the aid
of some metaphor that is familiar within his circle; or compare
himself with a book or movie character. While an artist will begin
telling it and end up with a book or a film. And so, do you think
that your train of thought or emotion could be understood by a
Frenchman, an American, and whoever else? Or do you suppose that only
a Georgian can understand it in an adequate fashion?
OI: Yes, apparently, yes. If one goes back to the very start of the
associative chain — then yes, a Georgian. But if the film becomes
subject to extrapolation, let's put it that way, the means that it has
touched upon something common for both Georgians and people of a
different nationality and culture. You know, sometimes people ask:
"How did you invent it all?" One cannot invent anything, I'm firmly
certain of that. One can just get lost in thoughts about something,
and the solution will suddenly come to you; or one can experience
something very intensely, and the universality and discrepancy of the
feeling will yield some sort of formula.
ML: So, given any degree of universality of this or that method,
given the maximal creative honesty, your most intimate viewer would be
the one who was shaped by the same "cultural stew," as you say. All
things being equal, would you want to make your next film in Georgia?
OI: To make a film in Georgia would be very painful for me at this
time. A whole world has collapsed there. And people appeared there
who have no memory of kinship. People who have no memory of their
past, no knowledge of it. The viruses of mercantilism and egotism
have enter that environment, which has never known anything like it
before. It would be very painful for me to film in Georgia, because
that is that the film would have to be about. And that process would
not be an easy one. But you know, that is, after all, a reproach.
And to reproach is not a grateful thing to do. And the main thing is
that you cannot achieve anything with reproach as your tool. That's a
hopeless affair. The process would be painful. Some very hard
thinking is needed here. Frankly, I don't even know how to do it all.
To talk of what you know but use different material — that's a kind of
a pretext. Bit by bit, ones baggage gets used up... I left Georgia
due to circumstances that were beyond my control. I hadn't filmed
anything in eight years and was granted permission to leave from high
up the ladder. The bureaucrats hoped that I would never return and
that they were rid of me, thank God.
ML: Did you feel that you were leaving for good?
OI: No. I was just leaving to work.
ML: There was no thought that going to the airport was like going to
the graveyard? I had a feeling that I was being taken to a graveyard,
and I'm seeing it all for the last time, until the minute they'll
close the casket and cover the hole.
OI: Because you were really leaving. If I had to leave forever,
why, my films would have been different. For my addressees remained
back there. I made the film Favorites of the Moon for them, so that
they'd scratch and think. But one uses up one's reserves. Or else,
one needs to start really living in a different country with a set of
problems and associations which pertain to that country, but that's
something altogether different. And at this age, I'm certain, it's
impossible to do. And the problems of a foreign country can never
become truly intimately yours. They can become yours only insofar as
you can see their universality. But for you they will never have the
same concreteness as they do for a real human community of people that
are born and raised within that community. However, when I return to
Georgia, I find myself in yet another foreign country. There is no
return to anywhere period. People die, and a generation vanishes,
together with the whole frame of reference that we use for support,
and the sense of ease disappears. As if everyone keeps drawing toward
some barrier where all fall down and what comes in turn are new
waters. Heraclitus was right, of course: you can never step into the
same river twice.
ML: A few days ago, I and Agniezska Holland, a Parisian who left
Poland, were explaining our emotions simultaneously to this American
fellow. He was saying: "Well, now times have changed and one can go
back there"; while we were trying to make him understand that there
was no place for us to go back to. You cannot go back to the past.
OI: It became the past. All things are different now. There is no
sense in attempting to go back to childhood sites. Childhood is gone,
and you won't get much out of that but pain and disappointment. So
you grow sad. But one must go back anyway, because what remains is
some understanding of people's inner motions. And language plays a
very important role, for only we speak it and know it, and it contains
that associative stock as well as our system of values.
ML: You know, Brodsky said that when he arrived here, he made a
resolution: The world expects moans and complaints from you, hence it
would be bad tone to actually moan and complain. And he kept himself
in check and tried not to permit himself to do anything of the sort.
And then, said he, "The mask grew onto the snout and became a face."
And now, he said, one need not make any effort...
OI: He said that? Good for him!
ML: But at the same time, he continued to say words like: "Back
home, I used to do it that way" or "Back home, I wouldn't keep in
contact with that kind of person."
OI: Home means "the way it used to be," let's say it that way...
How did I leave? I had a conflict with The Center, as they call it
now, the State Cinema, the official propaganda machine. They rejected
all the screenplays, whatever I brought in. And I could not make
concessions. That's why they were pleased to let me go. It was
burdensome for them as well — to have me not working and everyone
asking them: "Why isn't he working?" They didn't know how to respond.
"He's thinking," they would say. Well, OK — for a year. You cannot
just think for a whole eight years... I think it isn't bad that I
didn't work for 8 years: to work all the time is dangerous as well.
ML: It only seems so now.
OI: One can't work without breaks. You stop living.
ML: You didn't work without breaks. Before Pastoral, there were
pauses between your films as well.
OI: There were. And they were somehow natural, I think. I could
never, say, finish one film today and sit down at my desk tomorrow and
start thinking of another one. Nothing will come of it. It's the
film that will invent itself, plant itself in my head, and tell me
what it wants to become... Such is our profession. You know, I don't
consider as my colleagues those who adopt big literary texts for the
screen. That's a different profession. Not even to mention those who
film truly great works of literature — that's simply absurd. It's a
pretty bad idea, for example, to mess with Mikhail Afanasievich
Bulgakov. Everything that he wanted to say to the world he
communicated with the means that were natural to him. And he's not
subject to explications. That's what I think. If it's some lousy
little book, then I guess you could do it. But then why use the book?
You can invent it yourself. Big deal, as if it were Newton's Law.
ML: Well the book's significance could be that it turned out to be
that very initial impulse that turned on your emotional apparatus.
After all, the story by Bogomolov called Ivan is so far from Ivan's
Childhood that there's almost no connection left.
OI: Could be, could be. I don't like that method. Why screen
Dostoevsky? One has to read Dostoevsky. They ask you: "Did you see
War and Peace?" "Sweetie," I say, "you've got to read War and Peace!"
What the hell do I need for it to have — who was it, Ktorov? Playing
old Balkonsky? Why should Pierre be played by Bondarchuk? What is
all that for? It stays in your head. Imagine, people who have not
read the book will watch the movie, then start reading and they'll see
Bondarchuk. Why, what kind of thing is that? When, my father saw the
movie — he had just returned from exile then — they asked him: "Well,
what do you think?" And he said: "All of the nobles move like liveried
servants." So that's all lost and one cannot be taught how to do it
ML: One doesn't want to believe that some things don't exist
OI: The fact that some things don't exist anymore is sad only for
the last of the Mohicans. The following generation won't be either
sad or glad about it.
ML: General reasoning is one thing, Otar, but it's another thing to
end up as one of these extinct reptiles, the last of the Mohicans.
The future is made by you, but not for you. Remember how it goes in
that story by the Strugatskis? I don't know if you like them or not.
OI: Yes, very much.
ML: You work for that future — it is your vector, your aspiration.
And, all of a sudden, you turn out to be a witness, a contemporary of,
a participant in this demolition. Here it is, the new world, but you
aren't needed in it any more, and you yourself have no real human need
for it. These are new conditions to which your organism and your
consciousness aren't adapted. Remember the Strugatsky story: The
mocretzy stop existing physically, but from them, from their flesh, a
new world originates. But Victor Banev, whose flesh has stayed
intact, cannot and doesn't want to merge with that world .
OI: In any case, all the moans and tears about how everything was
good before and how worse times are coming stem from the fact that
what came earlier was familiar to us, and that this familiarity has
gone, never to return. Thats how it is in this world. What's coming
will be a different time, just as shitty as ours, but special and
intelligible to someone else other than ourselves.
ML: Another question. What did we imagine the future to be? So
much for whether we're needed there or not. But how did we picture
it? The things that are happening now in Georgia — is that the future
that you imagined?
OI: Unfortunately not. Unfortunately not. I had a friend who got a
plot of land for a summerhouse. It was near Moscow. So he was
inspecting the land with a forest warden and saw that it had nothing
growing on it but aspen trees. So he says to the warden: "Why is the
land so bad here — nothing but aspens." And the warden said: "There
was a thick forest here before, but they cut it, and now it's only
aspens. But you know, he says, see that firtree growing and over
there is a little oak that made it. If you wait 20–30 years, it will
be forest again and the aspens will disappear. But if you level it
twice, then only aspens will grow from then on." And Georgia was
leveled at least four times within a brief historical period. It was
leveled during the invasion of the 11th Russian Army at the time of
the first emigration wave; leveled during the large peasant uprising
against the Soviets in 1924; Stalin has purged it of even those
communists who still believed in something, and, has naturally wiped
out all the aristocrats. Then, there was a war, where 600,000 people
were killed, and Georgia's population at the time was 2.5 million.
Well, this sufficed.
My dad had 11 brothers, and I am their sole heir. You can thus
imagine what happened. And my mother and my aunt who raised me did so
in spite of the existing circumstances. I was lucky. For later on,
if you assume the responsibility of being an artist, it's very
significant where and how you were brought up. If you grew up in a
foster home, if you were punished and whipped and your teachers were
mean; or if you grew up in the house of a drunken father who thrashed
your mother, beat his kids and broke furniture, while your mother was
also cruel and drunk, then your films or your books would be very
different from those you would make if you had grown up in an
environment of attention, love, respect, and care. Georgia's been
leveled four times, so no matter how much we, the remaining Georgians
of a different epoch that are left by accident to live out the rest of
our days, no matter how we try or wave our arms in the air, it all
cannot be restored anymore.
True, there are texts, the texts that have had a certain influence on
those young people who gathered on the square and were mercilessly
beaten and chased away. There are texts, and maybe they deliver some
sort of structure. Texts have to be read, and for that you need
teachers. There were songs which required skill, not to mention
ability. They stopped singing the songs, stopped teaching them and
stopped learning them. The whole wave that has appeared with walkmen
and videocassettes has finished off the last remainders. A whole
culture has collapsed; since culture is not something where one
cellist performs, and the others, who don't know how to play, listen
to him. Culture is when everyone knows how to do something.
ML: Naturally, when Liszt visited Russia and played at home salons,
the people who played the piano themselves were in a position to
appreciate his performance; he just played better than they did.
OI: And yet it seems to me that there is still some sort of energy
in Georgia that can lead it to rescue. I wait in hope that it will
Two years passed, and Otar Ioseliani brought yet another new film to San Francisco.
A small town in France. People who have lived side by side for many
years. Who all know each other, meet in church, and play in an
amateur brass band; bicycle to the shop, buy baguettes, catch fish,
hang laundry, wake up with a hangover.
We don't know anything about an old woman who dies in her chateau;
how, when and why she got there is not important. She has a sister in
Moscow, and the sister, an old lady like her self, comes to the
funeral with her daughter. Other relatives come as well, a huge
family gathers together. The funeral over, everyone takes a seat in
the living room. The will is read, and, to everyone's disappointment,
the sister from Moscow inherits the chateau.
The snappy daughter of the new owner immediately sells the chateau to
Japanese businessmen. What would she do in this village? She moves
to the city — Paris? — to an apartment where mother's quarters are
arranged behind a partition, and the rest of the place is a gathering
for what could be the former Moscow crowd: festive meals, drunken
conversation, guitar music, quarrels (by the way, one of the guests
sitting at the Moscow-in-France-style table is Alexander Askoldov, a
Muscovite now living in Berlin); she has transported the Moscow life
to Paris with the only difference that here she can go to the store
and buy a bunch of dresses, hats and fur coats, and issue an order to
her mother: "I prohibit you to do the dishes. That's not acceptable
here. There are servants."
In the meantime, the new owners move into the old chateau. These new
owners try to resemble the former, real hosts in all aspects: having
purchased the estate for 1.5 million dollars, they bicycle to the
bakery for the same baguettes, buy vegetables at the farmer's market,
go to the same church.
Old customs and old culture do not just exit the stage, as in the case
of the demolished African village. The new owners, imitating the
lifestyle of the chateaus old inhabitants, repeat the external
behavioral traits of those who lived here before. They copy what can
be copied, that is, what they see. Yet the culture that gave birth to
this rhythm and this way of life is left outside of their visions
Of course, it isn't just the case of the snappy Muscovite who decided
to sell the family estate: In a neighboring chateau, a group of
tourists who came by bus are lead down a corridor by the young heir's
black girlfriend. Explaining what her ancestors did here and there,
she points to the portraits which have no connection to her. "This is
my grandfather, the general," she says, nodding at a portrait of a
haughty-looking white gentleman, although earlier in the day, while
quarreling with her boyfriend, she threw a soft-boiled egg at it. The
absurdity of the situation is augmented by the fact that she explains
all of this to Japanese tourists, who snap their cameras and follow
their guide's directions in an orderly, obedient manner, without a
trace of doubt — or of interest. They assimilate, gather information,
Another chateau houses a community of Hare Krishnas, who sing their
hymns, dancing on the lawn. Here and there, another vehicle appears:
a certain lady is buying up antique furniture.
At the same moment that the deed for the chateau is being drawn up,
the news on TV announces an explosion on a train in which several of
the film's characters lose their lives. What's at issue is not the
tour guide or the snappy Muscovite. Ioseliani does not blame them.
He blames no one. He tells a story. The old lady left the estate to
her sister; that was natural to her character and culture. And the
sister's daughter did what was natural to her character and
upbringing. The Japanese did not rob anyone, but patiently waited,
purchased the place in an honest fashion, and even use bicycles
instead of Hondas and Toyotas to go to the market, to church, and to
the bakery to buy French baguettes.
Some future day, when we shall be no more,
Or rather — after us and in our place
They'll also have built something of the sort
That would appall any of those who knew us.
But those who knew us will be few in number. 
Ioseliani blames no one. That culture's time has simply come to an
end: The old woman wound up the gramophone, put on a record, laid a
pile of papers, letters, and photos on her lap, and found herself in
another time and in a different part of the world; while downstairs,
in the billiards room, a tall, lean officer, a bit ghostly but almost
corporeal, glanced at the clock and raised himself from an armchair.
A door creaked; the officer, cigarette in hand, walked up the stairs,
and entered the bedroom... The old woman opened her eyes, reached for
the smoking cigarette, and inhaled. Her time has run out. There is
no return to anywhere. The tiny part of the officer with a cigarette
in his hand was played by the director Otar Ioseliani.
FOOTNOTES AND REFERENCES
 Actually he had made four films, but the first one, titled April, was never released.
 Quoted from a poem by Arseny Tarkovsky.
 The Bell was the title of a magazine that the Russian writer and journalist Alexandr Herzen published in London from 1857 to 1867.
 Ugly Swans, a science fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.
 Quoted from a poem by Joseph Brodsky