Review by Sean Boelman
This is apparently the year of the long art house drama, as the unorthodox Georgian romance What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is truly something special. Taking its simple premise and expanding upon it in a way that is ingeniously poignant and almost hypnotic in nature.
The film follows two young people who fall in love after only a pair of chance encounters, only to find that an evil spell has been cast upon them that will keep them from finding each other. Although there is certainly a supernatural element to the movie, it isn’t the focus but more of a means to an end.
It goes without question that the two-and-a-half-hour runtime will certainly try the patience of some viewers, but writer-director Aleksandre Koberidze is very deliberate with his pacing. The first act is quite funny, with its deadpan meet cutes and wandering about, but it is when the film becomes more tragic in the second act that it starts to truly resonate.
There isn’t much subtlety in the movie’s messages on love and romance, with the narration even going so far as to spell it out to the audience. Although it may not be the most thought-provoking of films, there’s still enough going on here to justify the length of the story. Koberidze doesn’t add anything new to the trope of the star-crossed lovers, but it’s a good watch nevertheless.
The character development in the movie is also quite strong. Koberidze does an excellent job of making the audience immediately sympathize with the characters because they quite literally lose everything. This gives us the necessary feeling of hope, which is what drives along the narrative.
It is always a challenge for two actors to play the same role in a single film, but the cast here absolutely pulls it off. Giorgi Bochorishvili and Giorgi Ambroladze and Ani Karseladze and Oliko Barbakadze are great duos, playing alternate versions of each other in an entirely believable way. Bochorishvili and Karseladze, who play the versions of the couple with the most screen time, are truly brilliant.
Koberidze also does an amazing job with the movie from a technical standpoint. The cinematography is excellent, using the camera in plenty of interesting ways like shooting from extreme distance or only from the knees down to create a unique emotional effect. The score by Giorgi Koberidze is also a highlight.
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is an extraordinary film, making something complex and innovative out of a simple story. It’s a shame this wasn’t submitted as its country’s representative for Best International Film, because it is one of the year’s best.
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? screened at the 2021 AFI FEST, which runs November 10-14.