Cinema from the south Caucasus: the best contemporary films available to watch online

Cinema from the south Caucasus: the best contemporary films available to watch online

25 April 2020
Top image: still from All That Passes By Through a Window That Doesn't Open (2017), dir. Martin DiCicco

In recent years, we’ve witnessed a boom of independent filmmaking from the south Caucasus, with emerging directors showcasing moving, poignant portrayals of the region’s contemporary lives and realities on the international scene.

We’ve selected the best films from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan available online with English subtitles — perfect for watching in lockdown.

My Happy Family

(Georgia, 2017)

Directors: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß

My Happy Family premiered at the Berlinale in 2017. It follows the story of Manana, a 50-year old woman who, strangled by social pressure, wakes up one morning and decides to leave her family. But as she moves by herself into a flat in the outskirts, past secrets come to light in an unfortunate series of events, shredding the traditional family structure to pieces.

The film, which received both a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and a special jury mention at the Seattle International Film Festival, is a heartfelt look at characters who struggle to find balance against the weight of tradition and the expectations of Georgian society. As the Seattle Film Festival judges expressed, My Happy Family stands out for its gripping “approach to a subversively feminist story, and for their ability to capture emotional chaos with depth, grace, and resonance.”

Watch on Netflix

Sovdagari

(Georgia, 2018)

Director: Tamta Gabrichidze

In the heart of rural Georgia, Gela, a travelling trader, tours villages exchanging goods for potatoes. The first Georgian film to be produced by the streaming giant Netflix, this moving short is a painfully revealing window onto the harsh realities of the country’s backwoods, where potatoes are life-sustaining currency, and ambition is crushed by poverty. Short but effective, Sovdagari is a must-watch to understand some of the harsh realities of contemporary Georgia, often shadowed by the glow of its vibrant capital Tbilisi.

Watch on Netflix

Holy Cow

(Azerbaijan, 2015)

Director: Imam Hasanov

In a remote mountain village in Azerbaijan, Tapdyg leads a simple life with his wife and children. One day, he comes up with a revolutionary plan: buying a European cow that produces more milk than traditional Azerbaijani cattle. His wife begs him not to embark on the expensive scheme, and the village elders are also against it: in their minds, any kind of foreign influence would be bad for their isolated community. Their increasing resistance, however, only strengthens Tapdyg’s resolve to follow his dream. A feel-good movie about making our dreams come true, Holy Cow is a rare portrayal of the realities of present-day Azerbaijan beyond state-financed historical films. Both local and universal, this documentary shows how human beings handle change and react to globalisation when it affects them directly – even in the smallest village in the Caucasus mountains.

Watch on Vimeo

The Last One

(Azerbaijan/Russia, 2014)

Director: Sergey Pikalov

In a crumbling house inundated by sunlight, a war veteran lives alone. The ridges on his face suggest a long life deeply lived, but now there is nothing left for him. The world has forgotten he exists. He ekes out his days recording the behaviour of his only friend, a temperamental fridge. In the fridge are his medals, the keys to his past. Save for a young boy that comes to deliver bread and milk, it would seem as if he were the last man on earth.

Premiered online on The Calvert Journal in 2013, The Last One is a bittersweet homage to the sacrifices of war, loss, and intergenerational memory. An Azerbaijani-Russian co-production, the short film made its debut at Cannes in 2014, where it became the first Azerbaijani film to be nominated across the board, and the first Russian nominee in the main short film competition. Although the film is a portrayal of the weight of the past in contemporary Azerbaijan, its philosophical themes of loss, solitude, and remembrance, are of universal importance.

Yeva

(Iran/Armenia, 2017)

Director: Anahid Abad

Following the death of her husband, Yeva flees Yerevan with her daughter for Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the heart of this mountainous, landlocked region, she finds refuge from her in-laws, who accuse her of killing her own husband, yet she struggles to remain anonymous and protect herself from her haunting past.

Set against the backdrop of the long-running conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Yeva is an old-fashioned drama about the weight of tradition, duty, and patriotism. An Armenian-Iranian co-production, Yeva was selected as the Armenian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards held in 2018, although it was not selected. However, Yeva is an unfeigned portrayal of the struggle between individual values and national identity in the context of one of the longest and little-known running conflicts in the former Soviet Union.

Watch on Vimeo

Red Apples

(Armenia, 2016)

Director: George Sikharulidze

In Gyumri, Armenia’s second city, Davit and Lilit wake up in their new home after their wedding night. When Lilit’s mother-in-law breaks into the bedroom to inspect the bedsheets and finds them spotlessly white, Lilit comes under fire for debasing the honour of Davit’s family. According to Armenian tradition, the absence of bloodstains is a sign of pre-marital sex, an inadmissible taboo that persists in modern-day Armenia.

In this powerful short film, dialogue is used sparingly, and substituted by violent stares and painful silences that tellingly denounce the burden of custom and the ritual of marriage for young women in contemporary Armenia

Watch on Kanopy

All That Passes By Through A Window That Doesn’t Open

(US/Qatar, 2017)

Director: Martin DiCicco

While workers in Azerbaijan work on the construction of a new high-speed train line, in Armenia, one train station supervisor has been waiting for decades for the return of trains to his abandoned depot sitting by the closed border. Set against the backdrop of the construction of the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway, also known as the “Iron Silk Road,” this train track, operational since 2017, sought to create the fastest route between Asia and Europe. However, this geopolitically-charged project purposefully left Armenia and its existing train tracks out of the equation, as a result of the country’s long-standing conflict with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

In a landscape which is almost reminiscent of a Western, the men at work are filmed in a suspended time frame. As they struggle with their economic needs and dreams for a better future, their harsh daily routine subtly reveals moments of complicity. Made from an outsider’s perspective, this documentary paints a rare, humane picture of a conflict that has haunted the region for decades. Through heartfelt, intimate stream-of-consciousness narration, All That Passes By Through A Window That Doesn’t Open is a moving portrait of the universality of human ambitions and emotions beyond politics and national identity.

Watch on Vimeo

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