Beginning: The BRWC Review. By Alif Majeed.
I remember the first time I watched the movie Irreversible and getting stunned by the violent rape scene at the heart of it. What made it more disturbing is how the rapist was treating Monica Bellucci’s character in that underpass. Kicking and screaming and treating her like dirt and letting her know she is dirt too.
The treatment of rape in Beginning bought a deja vu for me after all these years that was just as shocking, partly because the director Déa Kulumbegashvili went the opposite direction and still make the scene just as impactful.
Beginning as a movie can be a divisive and conflicting viewing experience as a movie. If the visuals that you can’t take your eyes off does not take you in, the actions or lack of it of the characters will draw you in enough to make you let your guard down and then jolts you upright gently with what is happening on screen.
The lengthy opening sequence inside a Jehovah’s church is an example of that movie’s strength. The static camera follows the scene for a long time in the meeting, starting with the believers slowly entering the church before the preacher begins the sermon.
As he gets to the end of the sermon, an unseen figure throws a Molotov cocktail into the church, setting off the principal characters and the movie on its journey. The apathy that the main protagonist Jana (Ia Sukhitashvili), shows makes it obvious that it does not bother her. Almost not wanting to get involved or have anything to do with the church, even if her husband is its leading pastor.
Ia Sukhitashvili as Jana provides a much-needed believability to the character, which is essential considering everything she goes through and does in the movie. She is not always an easy character to root for, and initially, her lack of reaction to anything that happens around her gets frustrating. Her apathy goes through different stages throughout the movie, starting with her response to her husband’s church burning down to his casual attempts to brush asides her issues and doubts about continuing with his church. And this man does not see no problems with their relationship whatsoever and brushes her off.
Her toxic relationship with her husband and his religion spills over to her relationship with everyone around her. The detective investigating the bombing certainly does not help with his bizarre line of questioning to her regarding the bombing.
The character of the detective played by Kakha Kintsurashvili remains nameless, and that makes him more hideous in the manner in which the guy comes and goes into Jana’s life as he pleases. The actor Kakha playing the detective can also get away with not seeming sleazy as we see nary a closeup of this guy to know what he thinks. But he makes you hate him with the way he treats Ia.
The use of long shots in the movie also seemed like a distraction in the Beginning. I almost thought the video got stuck a few times before smacking myself, realizing it was by design and necessary to show Ila’s state of mind. When the camera holds tight on her face with her eyes closed while she is resting on her day out at the park, it shows her most peaceful moment that she had in a long time.
That very park acts as a catalyst for the scene that will be the film’s highlight. There are a lot of starting points for extended discussions in the movie. But none of them would surpass the film’s centerpiece, which is the rape in the same park with yet another disturbingly achingly long take. It is shocking and vile, purely because of the matter-of-fact way in which it begins and ends that catches you unaware.
There might be a tendency to discuss the similarities you can find in Beginning with Michael Haneke’s movies. But for me, it felt closer to Lars Von Trier, especially his depression trilogy and, specifically, Antichrist. But unlike that movie, the director makes no overt attempts to spell out the reason for her sadness and what is going on in her head, letting us try to figure things out in ours.
Beginning gave me the same kind of jitters about secluded yet eerily beautiful parks, I got the creeps when thinking about pedestrian underpasses for a long time after watching Irreversible. It deserves to be seen and discussed for its twisted take on patriarchy and the oft handed way women gets brushed off by it when discussing their inner thoughts.
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