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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.

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