A success at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Brighton 4th is a tender, sad portrait of the illusion of immigration and the story of how far a father will go to assist his struggling adult son.
Compared to the US state bearing the same name, the former Soviet republic of Georgia may be a country with a relatively low profile in terms of film making and yet every so often, cinematic gems emerge from the country (check out In Bloom, And Then We Danced, Beginning and last year’s What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? as examples).
Director Levan Koguashvili’s latest feature Brighton 4th is another for the list, but he has the twist of taking place mostly in the suburbs of Brooklyn, among the community of immigrants from the former Soviet republics who have made the neighbourhood around Brighton Beach their home. His film combines the disillusion of immigration with a tender story of how far a father will go to assist his son.
Kakhi (Levan Tediashvili) is a retired wrestling champion whose instinct tells him that his son Soso (Giorgi Tabidze) is not doing quite so well in America as he would have his parents believe. Kakhi travels to the United States, and is met with a son who has dropped out of medical school, lives in a shabby boarding house, and has outstanding gambling debts which he owes to the local Russian mob boss. Saying little but taking in a lot, Kakhi realises that he has the solution to his son’s problem, but at what cost to himself?
Koguashvili chose to cast many of the roles from within the Russian/Georgian/Kazakh-speaking residents of the neighbourhood and shot on location there too. This brings authenticity to the scenes and is emphasised when his camera lingers from a distance on ordinary people pausing for a cigarette with friends on a park bench or visiting the grocery store for provisions. The signs on the walls are not in English, nor is the buzzing conversation of passers-by. We are at the same time in familiar American surroundings, and yet not. The sense of alienation is overwhelming.
Among those who do have acting experience, Levan Tediashvili stands out as Kakhi, the caring and care-worn father of an adult son. Kakhi puts himself on the edge of a group, keeping himself at arm’s length from what is happening in front of his eyes, yet stoically taking everything in. It’s such a beautiful performance that it’s worth remembering that Tediashvili has only a limited acting background – but is actually a multiple Olympic gold medallist in wrestling, representing USSR in the 1970s.
Koguashvili captures the despair and hopelessness of the immigrant community onto which he trains his camera but also mines a warm vein of kinship, of culture, of humanity among the same people. Moments of shared emotion are punctuated by communal singing or dancing brought from the homeland, keeping tradition and links to home alive, but tinged with melancholy for what has been lost.
It’s a sad story which serves to remind viewers of how important the small things can be, and how few of us get to live the dream.