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Legacy
cast: Sylvie Testud, Stanislas Mehrar, Pascal Bongard, George Babluani, and Leo Gaparidze

writers and directors: Temour and Gela Bablunai

76 minutes (PG) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
In Tbilissi, Georgia, Frenchman Nikolai (Pascal Bongard) is scraping a living as a translator. When it comes to clients, Nikolai has lousy luck. The owners of the charity he works for have run off with the funds... and Nikolai's salary. Fortunately for his bank balance, three young French visitors require his services. Patricia (Sylvie Testud), Jean (Stanislas Mehrar), and Céline (Olga Legrand) want to inspect the ruined castle Patricia has inherited, and Nikolai agrees to go with them.

The other passengers on their subsequent arduous, two-day bus journey into the Georgian mountains are an odd lot. There's a mute (Augustin Legrand), who isn't, and two men, one as dewy-faced as the other is craggy, carrying an empty coffin. And if the bumpy journey was bad, the overnight accommodation is even worse: hard beds, no food, and terrible vodka. It's lucky the mute has brought enough food for everyone with him... at a price.

The men with the coffin turn out to be grandson (George Babluani) and grandfather (Leo Gaparidze), the latter due to die the next day. Jean and Céline are eager to film the old man's death and, in spite of Patricia's reluctance and Nikolai's warnings that this isn't France, insist on following the two men to their village. But as with the 'observer effect', where the act of observing changes the phenomenon being observed, the presence of the foreigners changes what should have been a straightforward if brutal settling of accounts into something more tragic.

Legacy (aka: L'Héritage) is a short, rather leisurely film that focuses on a clash of cultures, its plot hinging on two different types of legacy - a castle and an ancient feud. "Mountain folk follow their own laws," we are told several times, and the catalyst of this particular blood feud, which visits the sins of its fathers on their innocent descendants with a vengeance, is suitably trivial. Even so, the Babluanis portray the stubborn Georgians in a more sympathetic and compassionate light than they do the supposedly more civilised Frenchmen who want to intervene. They also share my irritation with tourists apparently unable to go anywhere or meet anyone without filming it on their ever-present video cameras.

Sparing but effective use of the music of the region adds to the texture and atmosphere, but also means that discontinuities in the soundtrack, such as variations in the background noise, are sometimes distractingly obvious. The acting is uniformly excellent, but, frustratingly, most of the characters remain underdeveloped. And I found Nikolai's suddenly holier-than-thou attitude in the rather perfunctory final scene rather unconvincing. But it's the harsh but spectacular scenery through which the bus travels and the character-laden faces of the mountain folk, especially the grandfather, grandson, and deaf mute (and his pet sheep), that remain with you long after the film has finished.
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