Mardi Gras Film Festival 2023 Review: Wet Sand ★★★★

Georgian queer cinema is in the spotlight again with Elene Naveriani’s evocative Wet Sand, a heartbreaking look at the power of repression in a parochial community and the hate that lurks behind the faces we see everyday.

Amnon (Gia Agumava) runs the local café, serving beers and meals to the locals. He’s a calm, stable presence in a tight-knit ageing community. His employee, Fleshka (a brilliant portrayal by Megi Kobaladze), is an awkward girl who takes no nonsense from the old men around her. One day, news reaches them that a local recluse, Eliko (Tengo Javakhadze, has taken his own life and his body discovered in his home. As the neighbours strain their necks to catch a glimpse of what’s happening, they gossip about how the Eliko never fit in. What no-one knows is that Eliko and Amnon were lovers. While Amnon tries to suppress his grief, Eliko’s granddaughter Moe (Bebe Sesitashvili) returns to town to deal with his affairs, shaking up the stagnant status quo.

The sickening banality of village life has already seen most of the younger people leave town for the capital Tbilisi, and Moe’s return throws a spotlight on how little the place has changed. When no one apart from Amnon and Fleshka will help her arrange her grandfather’s burial, she enlists Alex, a young policeman begrudgingly stationed in the village who is attracted to the new outsider. Moe has a similar effect on Fleshka, who has also hidden her sexuality from those around her.

I’ve never wanted a film to take a third act twist and turn into a lesbian revenge thriller so much in my life. The callous surface of endless homophobia, pushing down anyone who is different, made my blood boil; that’s how strong Wet Sand hit me. The snide, bitchy way adults diminish Eliko’s life, in earshot of Amnon, felt so real and appalling, only amplified by Amnon’s dignified stillness. 

Naveriani paints a picture of an all-encompassing, repressive evil. A delicate balance of power within the small community in which the police work to keep the peace, rather than uphold the law and where a group of bitter old people can take the law into their own hands. When the relationship between Eliko and Amnon becomes known, their pressure turns into outright hatred. Agnesh Pakozdi’s cinematography highlights the remoteness of the seaside village, making the expanse of nature around them part of the claustrophobic world. They are cut off from their own humanity as much as they are removed from the rest of society, in a way that’s reminiscent of Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin. The film also has a rich soundscape thanks to Philippe Ciompi score.

Within the turmoil, Wet Sand gives us hope in the generational difference between the closeted life of Amnon and Eliko, and Fleshka’s chance at freedom. She wears a jacket emblazoned with “Follow your Fucking Dreams” on the back and she dreams of leaving for the city. Moe’s presence gives her the push she needs to make the leap.

Wet Sand joins 2019’s And Then We Danced in showing us a slice of queer life in Georgia. While Wet Sand may be the harsher of the two, it’s filled with a richness and subtly that magnifies its impact. In a film that pulls so much meaning from stillness, the performances by Agumava, Kobaladze, and Sesitashvili shine brightly.

By Chad Armstrong

Wet Sand receives its Sydney Premiere at Queer Screen’s 30th Mardi Gras Film Festival running in cinemas in Sydney and on demand Australia-wide from February 15th to March 2nd, 2023. Click here to buy tickets and for more information.

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