In Cinemas

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? review – spellbinding Georgian fairy tale

Alexandre Koberidze’s remarkable second feature depicts a lyrically sublime romance between a pharmacist and a footballer

Georgia has provided the setting for a number of recent stunning narratives of self-reclamation and identity: Levan Akin’s glorious And Then We Danced, Dea Kulumbegashvili’s stirring Beginning, and now Alexandre Koberidze’s enthralling What Do We See When We Look At The Sky?. Delving into this viscerally cinematic world where every corner seems to turn a new page on what is conceivably possible, Koberidze’s 150-minute film casts a spell over the ancient city of Kutaisi in what amounts to a truly bewitching Georgian romance.

The film orbits the relationship between a pharmacist (Oliko Barbakaze) and footballer (Giorgi Ambroladze) whose meet-cute is shot at ground level. Their fidgeting feet is the first indication of their romantic attraction. Then, mystically, the pair wake up in different bodies. Lisa (now Ani Karseladze) and Giorgi (now Giorgi Bochorishvili) meet again the next day but are completely oblivious to the fact have met before.

Embraced by the magical arms of the city, Giorgi and Lisa orbit one another. The couple waltz through silent streets unaware the very person they yearn for is standing before them. It was once love at first sight but now it’s an adventure driven by an insatiable desire to find a person who no longer exists – what a begrudging fate, the implausibility of which is simply the extent of Koberidze’s imagination.

With an attentive focus on the otherwise overlooked minutiae, from a single cherry blossom falling to fleeting shadows on cement pavements, the sure gaze of cinematographer Faraz Fesharaki’s gorgeously textured 16mm frame ignites What Do We See When We Look At The Sky? with a wistful ethereality.

The most enchanting aspect of Koberidze’s romantic drama, though, is the disregard for any typical romance structural convention. Quite simply, it doesn’t strike the usual beats we’ve come to expect. Not only that, Koberidze exchanges these predictable notes for a constructed mix of observed scenarios precisely cut to a steady rhythm that becomes unpredictably volatile: sharp pacing and sudden invasive close-ups. The city’s stray dogs whine, children’s laughter and football watching cheers blend with a soundtrack of swooning, angelic harps scoring the star-crossed lovers to elegantly articulate a digressive love letter to Kutaisi.

This transient viewing experience renders young characters bumbling through a city with a surreal originality that frames the mundane – from a freshly baked Khachapuri under streetlights to the mesmerisingly slow pour of coffee – as magical. The result is an eternally charming and magnifying folktale that embraces the impossible coincidences of life.

What Do We See When We Look At The Sky? was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2021. It is released in UK cinemas on 25 November.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes review – brilliantly tricksy Euro horror homage

Kevin Kopacka's meta-natured genre throwback, greatly atmospheric and narratively loose, is never quite what it appears

Lynch/Oz review – an act of film criticism that illuminates and invigorates

Alexandre O. Philippe’s approachable, insightful documentary delves into the director's canon through his love of The Wizard of Oz

Utama review – Bolivian drama of big themes and bold visuals

Alejandro Loayza Grisi's debut explores intergenerational conflict and climate emergency through the story of two elderly farmers

Strange World review – Disney Animation stumbles with a sluggish adventure

Some fantastic environment and creature designs aside, poor pacing and a lack of jokes will leave parents and kids mostly bored


Starter Pack: A Guide to Noirvember

As the month-long celebration kicks off again, Steph Green offers a pathway into the most morally murky of all movie genres...

Goran Stolevski on You Won’t Be Alone: “The film is about witches, but it’s also about feelings!”

The Macedonian-Australian director's bewitching debut feature is a Balkan fairytale that grapples with identity and humanity. Fedor Tot talks to the filmmaker ahead of its UK release

10 Must-See Films at BFI London Film Festival 2022

As the latest edition of the festival returns to the capital, Ella Kemp highlights some of this year's most essential features

Every David Cronenberg Film, Ranked

To mark the release of Crimes of the Future, Steph Green sorts the body-obsessed auteur's vast filmography from worst to best...