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Dover Kosashvili denies that his debut feature is an indictment of the strict family traditions he grew up with as a Georgian immigrant living in Israel. (That's the former Soviet republic, not the Southern state.) "You see criticism?" he asks. "I love those conservative people and I want you, as the audience, to love them, too. If you don't, then I've failed." Despite Kosashvili's intentions, some viewers may find it difficult to sympathize with the oppressive family hell-bent on finding a virginal young wife for Zaza, Late Marriage's bachelor protagonist. In the film's most harrowing scene, overbearing parents, uncles, and aunts invade a small apartment where Zaza is holed up with his older girlfriend, brandishing threats befitting The Sopranos.
The 35-year-old director doesn't see the scene as violent, however. "They have strong beliefs that what their son is doing is ruining his life. In that case, if they don't interfere, they are killing him, so where are they wrong?" He adds, "Maybe what's more violent is if you just let individuals do whatever they like. Individuality is more of a Western concept." So too, apparently, is women's equality; at a controversial Q&A following Late Marriage's New Directors/New Films screening, Kosashvili provoked audiences by calling female divorcées "second-class citizens."
In Israel, where Kosashvili has lived since 1972, the film touched a nerve, winning nine of the country's top awards last year and becoming the highest-grossing film in two decades. But Kosashvili says the story is neither Israeli nor Georgian. "It could happen anywhere on the earth." And yes, it did happen to him. "I was involved with a woman who I couldn't introduce to my parents," admits Kosashvili, who's still unmarried (but involved).
Making the film all the more autobiographical is the casting of his own mother, Lili Kosashvili, as Zaza's mother. "I couldn't find an Israeli actress who could speak Georgian without an accent," he explains. Later, the filmmaker regretted the decision. "It's better to leave your mother your mother," he says. "We take our parents for granted, and when I started to work with her, I couldn't take her for granted anymore. In the end, I was lucky. It's a miracle she can act the nuances of that character. To be immodest, I must know how to direct."
In addition to the age-old familial conflicts of the story, Kosashvili, who studied philosophy as well as film at Tel Aviv University, was also interested in certain epistemological inquiries. Beyond "What is everlasting love?" as one character inquires, Late Marriage asks the underlying question "What is knowable?"
"Zaza thinks that everything is just belief," explains Kosashvili. "Behind that, there are just unproved things. So throughout the film, he tries to find something more solid than belief. His girlfriend thinks they should get married. His parents think his girlfriend is not a good woman and they should not get married. Zaza is surrounded by all these people who know what's best for him, but he's doubtful. He doesn't make any rash moves. And I think the point is if you don't move until you know, you'll never move. In the beginning of the film, Zaza mocks these believers. At the end he finds out if you really want to live, you must become one of those believers." Whether this faith-based conclusion is positive or negative, Kosashvili isn't saying. "I see the comedy and tragedy of everything at the same time, and I tried to put both these elements into every beat of the film."
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