Georgian director Leo Gabriadze tells the story of his father’s formative years in the animated Rezo, competing in the Medium-length Competition. But Leo’s father is no ordinary Georgian. He is acclaimed artist, screenwriter, filmmaker and puppeteer Rezo Gabriadze, and the film is shot through with his satisfying magical realist aesthetic, culled from his poetry, his paintings and his drawn characters.
Throughout the film, Rezo tells his life-story to a small off-screen audience – from the bombing of Georgia during World War II to his evacuation to his grandparents’ farm in the countryside, his eventual immersion into the world of paid work, to his decision to found a marionette theatre. But because it is all so lyrically and amusingly told, the unseen audience cannot help laughing – to the consternation of director Leo. (The audience eventually receive their own end-credit: ‘the gigglers’.)
The tale is at times romantic and deeply moving, at other times gloriously fantastical. In the local library, a painting of Lenin leaves its frame to scold him, while a mini-Lenin emerges from a badge pinned to a lapel to demand Rezo’s ‘liquidation’. Stalin intervenes to predict a future for him as an electrician in Siberia, where he will marry a seamstress and have children. “My father is a storyteller,” says Leo. “And he is also a painter, so he illustrates the stories ... When you are with him you have to be in his bubble. There is no other bubble. He has his own reality distortion.”
The two collaborated closely on the film. Leo recorded the videos of Rezo telling his stories and then edited them down to make a coherent, fairly linear, story. Then he asked his dad to make drawings of the film’s characters that could then be animated into the film. At times it was a little frustrating for Leo working with his father on the project. “Have you ever worked with parents?” the director asks rhetorically. “Psychologically it is a hard thing to do [when] you are emotionally involved with the subject matter. He has his own vision. But all the characters are newly drawn for the film. Some of the backdrops are old, but most of them are created especially for us,” Leo stresses. “For me, basically what we did is an illustrated book. The genre is literary, it is oral storytelling and the only way you can record this is not on paper but on video or audio. In this case he is a painter, so this is a book with illustrations. But because it is a video, the illustrations come alive too.”
Leo describes the eventual process of animation, after the story was ready to roll. “A small team of animators, one year, one room, no weekends.”