Mariam Katchvani’s Dede is one of the most beautiful portrayals of spiritual tradition, heartache, grief, and sacrifice I have ever witnessed. Taking place at an unnamed time in the past in the Georgian villages of Svaneti and Ushguli, we follow the unfortunate life events of a young woman named Dina.
At the outset of the film, we are met with a large truck traveling through the Caucasus mountains, filled with armed men. We discover that the men are soldiers returning from war. Two soldiers became very good friends over their time on the battlefield, Gegi and David. David is thrilled to be back home because he will soon be marrying his fiance that he left behind. Gegi is pining over a girl he met whose name he never discovered. David says he will help Gegi find out who the girl is so that he can be with her.
The truck has been having issues and has to be hauled in by oxen to David’s village of Svaneti. When the soldiers arrive, we soon meet Dina. She is to be married to David but is not enthused about the arranged marriage foisted on her by her and David’s families. It is not too long that Gegi is in town that we also discover that his nameless girl was, in fact, Dina, though he had no idea it was David’s fiance when he met her.
“David says he will help Gegi find out who the girl is so that he can be with her.”
Gegi tells David that Dina is the girl of whom he spoke, and Dina also lets David know that she doesn’t love him, and she wants to be with Gegi. David’s response is slapping Dina across the face. Dina’s and David’s families are completely in shock by all this news. David tells Gegi to go hunting with him and his brother. While they are out, David tries to shoot Gegi with his rifle, but it doesn’t work. Gegi hands him his gun, telling him that he knows it will fire, but instead of shooting Gegi, David shoots himself.
This tragic event is the catalyst to a series of calamities that befall Gegi and Dina. Though the couple escapes to Gegi’s village, and the two have a son named Mosse, trouble is close behind them, and more particularly Dina, at every turn. The girl simply cannot catch a break. The circumstances for her are exceptionally bleak and remain so for almost the entire film. Of course, there is yet another man who is in love with Dina, named Girshel, but to talk too much about him will ruin a major plot point of the film.
The central theme of Dede is tradition and its place in Georgian culture. There is a lot of folk spirituality mixed with Orthodox Christianity which is very common in Eastern European countries. There is a trial for the murder of David that is decided by everyone swearing to an icon of St. George that what they saw was the truth. There is a lot of talking to the spirits and the ancestors. Of course, traditions are not always kind. The brutal side of tradition, especially about marriage, and the treatment of women as if they were property, is thoroughly explored in Dede.
“…the stunning cinematography and production design that transports the viewer to this timeless place of stoic beauty.”
Dede also tells us that one cannot choose who to love, and sometimes the choices we make because of love will cause us and others great pain. However, there is a small glimmer of hope in the ending of the film, as minuscule as it may be. Dede also speaks to the fortitude and resolve of Eastern European people, historically. Living in bleak freezing conditions, miles away from doctors and any conveniences, these villagers persevered through incredibly trying times because of their firm grasp of tradition and lack of sentimentality. Dede achieves a goal of putting us in the shoes of Dina, and in essence, many other women throughout history who suffered through abuse, arranged marriages, deaths of their family and husbands, still coming out the other side alive, if not broken. In the case of Dina, this is a victory, even if it may not feel as such.
I can’t fail to mention the stunning cinematography and production design that transports the viewer to this timeless place of stoic beauty. The Caucasus mountains are shown in all their cold, brutal pulchritude and are the perfect backdrop to such a heartbreaking tale. Mariam Katchvani did a fantastic job with Dede and I can’t wait to be devastated by a new film of hers in the near future.
Dede (2018) Directed by Mariam Ketchvani. Written by Vladimer Katcharava, Mariam Ketchvani, and Irakli Solomonashvili. Starring Natia Vibliani, George Babluani, Nukri Khachvani, Girshel Chelidze, Mose Khachvani.
9 out of 10 stars