ჩერმენი – Chermen (1971)

Director: Nikoloz Sanishvili
Script: Gregory Pliev , Alexander Misharin, Nicholas Sanishvili
Music: Ilia Gabaraev
Cinematography: Dudar Margievi
Cast:  Bimbolat Vataev, Konstantin Slanov, Vladimir Tkhapsayev
Kote Daushvili, Tereza Kantemirova, Anatoli Dzivaev
Zurab Kapianidze

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Nikoloz Sanishvili was born at the start of the 20th century in 1902 in Kutaisi, Georgia. He earned his film degree from Goskinprom Gruzii, which was more of a production company than a formal school. Sanishvili started his career with acting and moved on to screenwriting before he directed his first documentary. Chermen is based around a folk hero from North Ossetia who would rebel against landowners, being a serf himself. In the region of Ossetia they sing songs about his deeds, a tradition that honors the more noble characters in Ossetia’s history.

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ჩერმენი begins with Chermen and fellow villagers herding livestock to the market to sell for his village, when bandits attack them. While trying to escape the ambush, Dziu is shot and Chermen helps his friend to escape, but not before recognizing one of the bandits as the village leader’s son, Kasai. When Chermen returns to the village, he is banished by the villagers for not firing his weapon, but Kasai returns with some of the livestock and is honored as a hero. Chermen cannot confront Kasai because he is only a serf, a bastard born from his father’s concubine. Because of his father’s sin of forcing a concubine to bear him a son, he promises his mother that he will never hurt another man, the reason why Chermen did not fight back. Leaving the village, Chermen encounters a neighbor being attacked by a leopard and defends him, killing the leopard but sustaining an injury from the fight. His neighbor decides to take him back home where he is re-accepted by his community for showing courage.

Later on while celebrating Kasai’s victory at a feast, bandits secretly attack the village again, stealing horses. The village elder tells his son to pay the bandits extra for Chermen’s head. However, Chermen is too skilled for the bandits and captures the leader in an attempt to get him to confess in front of the village so they can hear the true plot. Before the bandit can confess, Kasai shoots him, causing Chermen to rebel against the landowners and take land for himself and the other serfs. Fearful of the repercussions of this action, Kasai and his father call upon another village leader to help squash Chermen’s rebellion. Although his friends come to his aid to prevent the attack, Chermen is killed from a far on his wedding day.

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As with many Georgian films during the Soviet era, ჩერმენი is in poor shape and in desperate need of a restoration. However, it’s no surprise that the story of Chermen Tlattaty would resonate with a Soviet audience. At times, Chermen’s character is presented in a heroic fashion as seen in the scene where he fights the leopard. Still, it feels like Sanishvili is subversively undermining Soviet principles of creating heroes of anti-feudal struggles. Instead of adhering strictly to this Soviet standpoint, Chermen is shown in a particularly humanistic light as he confesses to his mother that he feels that acts of violence against fellow men is perhaps not the best solution. ჩერმენი quickly puts politics aside and focuses on Chermen and the bonds he creates within and outside of his community.  This is a strong message given that it’s coming from a region that is largely divided and torn by a wealth of religions and ethnicity. In an interview with Zurab Kapianidze, he talks about his friend Bimbolat Vataev, who played Chermen, and their work on ჩერმენი. He expressed that the cast and crew were less worried about politics at large within their region, and instead wanted to find common ground with everyone. That said, it’s easy to watch  ჩერმენი and identify with Chermen’s ethics of equality and how it strengthens the community instead of restricting it.

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ჩერმენი is available in an English friendly edition, PAL or NTSC, and region free from Ruscico.