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Ferrua, Pietro
Repentance (Monanieba)
A film by Tenghiz Abuladze
Article published on 31 August 2003
last modification on 26 April 2015
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Russia, 1987.

Color, 151 mins, 35 mm. In Georgian with English subtitles. Script by Tenghiz Abouladze, Nana Janelize, Rezo Kvesalava. Cast: Avtandil Makharadze, Zeinab Botsvadze, Ia Ninidze, Merab Ninidze, Ketevan Abuladze. Russian Title: Pokaianie.

Should we wonder why this macabre comedy about the mayor of an obscure village in Georgia, still one of the Soviet republics, won a Special Jury Prize at the 1987 Cannes International Film Festival? Besides the excellent quality of the work, we have to keep in mind that its content can be taken literally as well as metaphorically.

Tenghiz Abuladze’s Repentance was shot and produced in the Soviet Union at a time when the nation had not yet disintegrated and censorship was still vigilant. Let us remember also that Stalin was born in Georgia.

Being unable to locate, so far, information about the film’s director - neither bio-bibliographical notes nor a filmography - I venture to express my interpretation. The modest and ambiguous figure of the mayor is perhaps used to represent the man who had been called the Father of the People: Josef Vissarianovic Jugashvili, or Stalin.

Stalin was born in Gori (Georgia) and became a social democrat at age 17. He was arrested several times during his youth for organizing political demonstrations. He returned to the Soviet Union from Siberian exile only on the eve of the 1917 Revolution. From 1920 to 1923, he was a member of the very influential Military Revolutionary Council, and after Lenin’s death, he became the most powerful figure of the communist "nomenklatura."

The ruler portrayed in the film has a particular aversion to an anarchist artist who is arrested and executed - as is the artist’s widow, later in the film. Stalin nourished the same hatred for the anarchists at large. He wrote against them in a pamphlet, titled "Anarchism or Socialism?", during his youth, which was republished many times - in several languages - even after his death. The pamphlet was used more for propaganda purposes than Lenin’s "State and Revolution," which was considered too tender toward the anarchists.

In Repentance, after Varlam’s death, someone digs nightly and exposes the corpse. After several such episodes and an inquiry, the culprit is arrested: a woman who had lost family members to Varlam’s repression. The trial that follows evokes old events and becomes a metaphor for collective guilt. Three generations have practiced or endured dictatorship. This film is a strong statement in favor of freedom, made in a very subtle, clever and ironic way.

Pietro Ferrua


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