As a Georgian director living in Switzerland, Elene Naveriani made her feature debut with I am Truly a Drop of Sun on Earth, a poetic film about the invisibles. The protagonists are the outcasts of Tbilisi (Georgia’s capital); people who live at the margins of society and practice low-paid jobs — the dirty, dangerous ones. The film focuses on the encounters between April (a prostitute) and Dije (a Nigerian refugee), whom ironically meet in the shadows of one of the most expensive hotels in the city. The romantic encounter is set in a timeless environment, picturing the misery of a ghost town.
The film begins with a conversation between women in jail. April emerges as the only prisoner expecting someone after her release. Her story unfolds through voice over and love letters from an ex, who justifies her absence as an ultimate attempt to settle things with her husband. Director Naveriani introduces the harsh world of Tbilisi’s nightlife through April — a beautiful and quiet woman in her 30s — who walks tall between the ruins of the city. She struts with dignity among deserted buildings, the true queen of the disheartening surroundings. The voice over is a smart way to develop the protagonist’s background, as she’s not only a sex worker, but also a woman attracted to another woman. And she accepts Dije as her client (a person of colour) — an inconceivable act even for these women. April brings hope into this man’s life, which is a miserable chain of small underpaid jobs where he’s verbally abused because of his skin colour. Looking for a better life, Dije has ironically mistaken Tbilisi for Georgia, USA, finding himself trapped in the same hardships he left in his home country. It’s interesting to see how outcast stigmas are projected by groups of people who, by all means, are unwanted by Georgia’s society. April’s fellow prostitutes find her relation with Dije unthinkable, just as his fellow Nigerians disapprove of their friend hanging out with a “dirty woman.”
“I am Truly a Drop of Sun on Earth” comes from a quote by postcolonial writer Frantz Fanon, with the previous sentence being “I am black, not because of a curse, but because my skin has been able to capture all the cosmic effluvia.” The movie’s poetic title could be seen not only as a symbol of the oppressed and their resistance in the face of racial injustice, but also an extension of the characters’ daily fight to survive. Women are treated as disposable beings, children are just another burden in the sex worker’s lives and personal wishes are pointless. The daily struggle to survive in a gender unequal society — marked by racial hate and closed to the open existence of sexual diversity — is topped by the tough life conditions.
There are some unexpected sources of humour within I am Truly a Drop of Sun on Earth, moments that lighten the otherwise dark plot. Naverini plays with the contrast between expectations and reality, bringing a bittersweet perspective similar to Federico Fellini’s outcasts with tragic destinies. The Nigerian refugee has mistaken his destination due to a toponymy coincidence, yet the differences between the ex-Soviet country and his ideal destination in the US are extreme. Even so, American society represents an ideal for the Caucasus country as well, as there’s a street named after George W. Bush, who was first United States president to visit the country. This kind of association has a deeper meaning, at least considering Georgia’s pro-Western efforts aimed at NATO integration (which have lead to some war conflicts with Russia). The gloom that covers the film is also justified by Tbilisi’s instability after the civil war and the separation from Russia’s influence. The illegal small businesses and the endemic corruption (at all levels of society) justify the country’s impoverishment and disillusion with future perspectives. The decay of the concrete communist buildings are present without the film becoming a form of poverty porn. Even romanticism is covered in wishful immigration dreams, with April and Dije climbing a hill (where Tbilisi’s panorama is visible) and humorously pointing out American trademarks, such as the Empire State Building and The Statue of Liberty.
Through a more minimalist approach, Naverini’s Italian Neorealist influences become visible, with the narrative being centered on the poor and their discontent. Even so, the film lacks political critique and class struggle, focusing more on the tender yet melancholic look of the characters. One powerful sequence is accompanied by Dinah’s Washington’s “This Bitter Earth,” a key piece in Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep — another film influenced by Italian Neorealism. Coincidently, Dije also works at a slaughterhouse, as Burnett’s protagonist and the austere life conditions affect his feelings of being in control over his own destiny. A notable detail of Naverini’s film is that her characters seem suspended in time, floating like ghostly shapes above a society that seems harsh, even if it’s not directly communicated to the viewer. Furthermore, the takes revealing the Georgian society (in a shooting type of reportage) move to a scene resembling the iconic sequence from the beginning of Fellini’s Otto e mezzo. Guido’s strange dream with the kite reminds me of another character suspended in time, like April, with a pointless direction in life.
As for the cinematography, the film is abundant with bird’s eye shots, tilting down to the characters’ miserable world, making people look insignificant. The director brings a sensitive touch by framing the indoor scenes with metal bars of two jointed beds. The improvised double bed in April’s room is made out of hospital furniture — and so, with the characters watching each other behind metal bars (like in prison), Naverini produces an appropriate visual metaphor for the partners’ inner states.
In the end, all that’s left for the invisible inhabitants of this micro society is the heavy partying in enormous halls and abandoned saloons. The contrast between the loud music and the extreme poverty is a potent tool to enhance the feeling of alienation, yet the director approaches this without sentimentalism and self-pity. Among there characters, there is less dialogue and more gazing, a characteristic that adds to the dystopian feeling of the society that Naverini portrays with so much sensitivity. It’s admirable how the director found the right balance between social drama and poetic imagery, as she manages to turn the daily hardships of these people into a choreography — constant walking and climbing makes the characters appear like they’re floating above the absurdity and desolation. The depth of the suffering penetrates the black and white cinematography, giving space for reflection. There is something beautiful about a resignation, and that is because humanity can be found in surprising places in this promising debut.
Andreea Pătru (@andreeapatru89) is a Romanian film critic and programmer who resides in Spain. Apart from taking part in the 2015 Locarno Critics Academy and Talents Sarajevo in 2016, she has written for Indiewire, Desistfilm and collaborated with Romanian outlets such as Film Reporter, Observator Cultural and FILM magazine. Andreea is a programmer at Tenerife Shorts – Tenerife International Short Film Festival and has previously worked for Romanian Film Promotion.