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By Elias Savada | June 18, 2013

Following a directing win for Tinatin Gurchiani in the World Cinema Documentary category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a Filmmaker Award at Hot Docs, and a host of other accolades, arrives the Washington, DC, area premiere (at AFI DOCS) of her Georgian/German feature “The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear,” with a synopsis that appears lifted from a Christopher Guest movie. Alas, there is little joy in Mudville, but the journey is fascinating.

Locals in the former Soviet republic of Georgia audition for movie roles. They become quite frank with the interviewer about their hopes and dreams. A future in Hollywood? Well, one shy young man in the construction profession, shown in mid shot against a decrepit light blue concrete wall, sees that as his possible future when the film begins. “I would be a good substitute for Van Damme,” even though he can only “almost” do the things that Belgian action star can perform.

Gurchani showcases over a dozen young people (although one older gentleman gets some screen time to tell of the loves he has lost) in the film, all filmed in Georgia from October to November 2011. They answered casting calls for people who think their life stories and events would be an interesting documentary subject. Trained in Germany, the Georgian born filmmaker Gurchiani, with a background in psychology, makes a standout feature debut here.

For 13-year-old Ramin Iremadze, like the other “players,” opening up is as easy as being plopped in front of the camera. The only thing missing is the psychiatrist’s couch. The experiment expands as Ramin becomes the film’s first tour guide, taking the crew to his sleepy, rural community, the drab mountainside village painted very much like an old master’s landscape, courtesy of veteran cinematographer Andreas Bergmann.

By the third segment, you begin to realize what’s going on here. Entice the interviewee to spill out something and then follow him or her as his life, friends, and/or family also round out that small tale. A beautiful, well-dressed young woman reveals she is to be wed that day. As her song about marriage reverbs about the room, the camera transports us to the wedding celebration at a tent nearby.

The ebb-and-flow drifts forward from one person to the next, sometimes expanding out a person’s scenario, sometimes not. No one returns for a callback. A pretty coed in Khevsureti studying for university, an unemployed worker addicted to online poker, the young “governor” of a small, remote community of 150-or-so elderly people, etc. Sometimes the interspersed segments are short poetic interludes, maybe a city street scene, or a car in the distance, driving along a mountain road, often accompanied by the melancholic music of Marian Mentrup and Mahan Mobashery.

Taken together, the interesting people, the steady images, and the amazing composition within many of the shots, are breathtaking for their simplicity and energy. FYI, the title comes from the lips of a young woman, apparently a novelist (who speaks with a mesmerizing, literary directness) midway through the film. She never thinks about her future. The director asks her if she had a machine which makes everything disappear, what would she disappear. The answer is part of a sadness knotting up the insides of this tired, dark-eyed woman.

Fitfully depressing and bravely open, Gurchiani’s film commiserates on life’s fleeting and often harrowing destinies. The last audition candidate wonders “I don’t understand why people say life is beautiful,” as the angry young man stares fiercely at the camera. His suffering, and that of all the others who have preceded him, sums up life’s agonies and are suitable for viewing in “The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear.”

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