French actress Olga Babluani stars in Keep Smiling
Paris – Arab Today
After revolution, war, ethnic conflict and economic crisis, Georgian director Rusudan Chkonia saw her new film Keep Smiling as a chance to explore a society in flux.
Inspired by the story of a beautiful but homeless mother-of-seven who entered a beauty contest in the hope of winning a cash prize, Chkonia\'s film paints a disturbing portrait of poverty, desperation and sexism in modern-day Georgia.
In Keep Smiling, a group of 10 women enter an annual television competition to find the country\'s \"mother of the year\".
Driven by the chance to scoop a flat worth $25,000, each woman hopes that winning will set her and her family on the path to a better life.
Gvanska is a single mother and talented musician who once hoped to be a professional violinist but can no longer perform in public.
Elena is a refugee from the conflict with the separatist region of Abkhazia who has lived for 16 years with her family in appalling conditions.
Meanwhile Irina is on the street with her children, abandoned by her debt-plagued husband.
Each dreams of a brighter future, starting with a decent place to live where they do not have to sleep three to a bed or worry about what the neighbours can hear through paper thin walls.
Chkonia, who says she likes stories about how people behave in extreme situations, met mother-of-seven Tamar in Tbilisi.
Attractive and intelligent, she felt she had no choice but to enter the beauty contest even though she found it humiliating.
\"Her story was tragi-comic and made me immediately think of [making it for] cinema,\" Chkonia said in production notes.
\"I was inspired by it even if in the script there is hardly anything left [of her],\" she added.
Actress Olga Babluani who plays Elena describes the film, which opens on Wednesday in France, as a \"hymn to courage\".
She says the movie\'s focus on motherhood allows it to examine the Georgian sensibility.
\"The mother is important culturally in Georgia. The mother is everything,\" said Babluani, who left Georgia for France aged 19 in 1997.
But if women are put on a pedestal in Georgian culture, they remain submissive when it comes to men, a point Babluani says was illustrated by an incident during filming.
\"The husband of one of the actresses made a scene during the filming because his wife was supposed to be wearing a swimming costume and without doubt also because she was earning more money than him,\" she said.
Chkonia\'s story follows the women as they battle with the show\'s organisers and each other.
Producers put pressure on the women to relive traumatic episodes from their past for the audience in the name television ratings.
Inevitably, in the course of the struggle the group begins to tear itself apart, each woman desperate to win.
Chkonia says the turbulence seen over the past three decades in strategically important Georgia has left the country of only 4.5 million with deep scars as well as half a million refugees.
Most recently, the country in 2008 fought a five-day war with Russia over the Moscow-backed separatist South Ossetia region.
\"We are in a transitional period when a country continues to advocate values that it has held dear, while at the same time the mindset is changing,\" she said.
The organisers of the contest speak of building a new Georgia, but in fact what they are promoting is \"pseudo patriotism and clichés\", she added.