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Corn Island- Crystal Globe Winner Karlovy Vary IFF

Monday 16 February 2015, by Judy Harris

Every springtime the rising tide of the Inguri river sweeps across the Georgian mountains, washing soil and rock into the valley below. These pieces of earth congeal into tiny islands on which local peasants harvest crops of corn. Corn Island traces the lifespan of one such island, fertile and transient, as it solidifies, bears fruit and eventually disintegrates. In the damp mists of a spring dawn, an old Abkhazian peasant (‘grandpa’) surveys the island, tastes the earth and, with a ragged white flag, marks it as his own. We are left to observe the relationship which emerges between the peasant, his labour and the unspoilt landscape.

Corn Island is delivered with incomprehensible ease, as beautiful and deliberate as the landscape it inhabits. Ovashvili’s seamless triumph mirrors the manner in which grandpa builds his house, so effortlessly that you don’t feel the weight of the timber. This wordless landscape of silt, wood and water is so completely captivating that the arrival of the old man’s granddaughter, dressed in pastels, feels like an alien intrusion and the cotton doll she clutches seems almost industrial. On this heap of land we encounter human habits and tools as if for the first time. Even the campfire seems out of place, frantically luminous amongst the muted landscape. Yet Corn Island is no scenic retreat. The film is quiet, almost silent at times, but it is unceasingly busy. As grandpa labours to build, sow and reap, the sky, the river, the land and air are also always at work and Ovashvili demands that we pay attention.

Amongst nature’s quiet commotion, the social world is thrown into stark relief. The river functions as a border between Georgia and the republic of Abkhazia and historical and political struggles play out on and around the island, as do the protocols of gender, sexuality and property. The river serves as a boundary, but an unstable one, as precarious as the island itself. Remarkably immersive, Corn Island leaves you anguished and astonished as grandpa and granddaughter struggle to survive while the ground under their feet literally slips away.

Dir., George Ovashvili, 2014

Click here to watch the trailer.

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