Botso Survived Stalin and Hitler — and Deserves a Better Movie


Wachtang “Botso” Korisheli cuts a heavy figure, his full beard and booming voice more than a little reminiscent of Christopher Lee. Born in Georgia (the country, not the state) and now living in the Bay Area as a renowned pianist and sculptor, he’s given music lessons to several generations of students.

Botso (an appropriate nickname meaning “young steer”) lived through Stalin in the 1930s and Hitler in the ’40s — the European-dictator equivalent of surviving both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now 92, he shares in Botso some genuinely harrowing stories — to actually sit down with him in person would no doubt make for a heavy, fascinating afternoon. His father was ordered dead by Stalin himself, and his mother died shortly before their long-awaited reunion.

Too bad the filmmaking never rises to the level of its subject, who speaks of such tragedies with affecting wisdom and insight. Director Thomas Walters doesn’t add much to the mix — some archival footage aside, much of the film consists of either Botso or those who know him speaking into the camera.

It’s a serviceable approach, but not one that allows Botso to ever feel as inspired.