top of page
  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Beginning (2021)

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

Beginning is a slow burner, a tragedy of biblical proportions as we follow a woman grappling with the ideals of her faith, community, family as well as her place within all of them. Dea Kulumbegashvili’s debut feature-length is a momentous piece of introspective filmmaking that announces her as a poetic filmmaker of the highest order.

Beginning follows Jana (Ia Sukhitashvili), a devout wife to a Jehovah’s Witness religious leader David (Rati Oneli). During a service, a firebomb is thrown into their chapel, burning it to the ground. In order for David to receive help in setting up a new building within their community, David leaves to ask leaders in his church for assistance, leaving Jana to look after their son by herself.

The character of Jana is a tragic centerpiece to the biblical themes that are at hand in Beginning. Faint whispers and prayers are heard before the first frame appears on the screen. Jana guides children into the building before welcoming more members of the congregation. Her husband takes over and begins telling the story of Abraham and Isaac, where Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to test his devout faith. As David begins to elaborate on the story, a firebomb is thrown into the church, forcing everyone to leave as the building succumbs to the flames. This opening perfectly sets the tone for where the film goes from here on out, providing a domino effect that begins to devour Jana’s emotional and mental state going forward.

Kulumbegashvili is an incredibly visceral filmmaker. The themes, characters and imagery on hand allows for her to explore and express these thoughts in a highly hypnotic manner, refusing to cut to the chase. She opts to observe these moments, taking in every little detail, staring it in the face and forcing you to do the very same. The imagery is gorgeous, only choosing to turn things ugly when it absolutely needs to (and it does). She holds on to these moments for what feels like an eternity, but the shifting nature of each moment is captured in real-time, providing truly hypnotic images that mesmerize the viewer and delve deeper into Jana’s actions and thoughts. Kulumbegashvili never resorts to fast cutting, instead she lets moments breathe and most importantly, live. Each frame is so carefully constructed and captured by another extraordinary talent in her cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan. Opting for the increasingly popular boxed-in aspect ratio of 1:33:1, Khachaturan creates images of symmetrical beauty and importance in Jana’s journey. We take in the arresting imagery of a burning building, completely unmoved, absorbing the thematic importance of its destruction much in the same way artists like Tarkovsky and Kurosawa achieved in their great “let’s burn this mother down” scenes in The Sacrifice (1986) and Ran (1985).

As impressive as that shot is, there is one particular shot that left me astounded with its ability to capture a character’s entire internal and external journey, as well as giving us an indicator of where it is heading. A 6+ minute static shot of Jana lying on the forest floor sounds tedious, but it turns into one of the single most important shots of the film, capturing the continuously changing nature that occurs with Jana externally and most importantly, internally. The light changes with the shadows as she closes her eyes, changing with each moment that passes us by. It’s one of the most effective shots I have seen in quite some time, telling a story of where Jana’s story is currently, and where it is heading.

The dialogue is sparse in Beginning, but massively important. Although we see the harsh brutality of the physical world chipping and hacking away at Jana’s mental and somatic well-being. It’s the words uttered by her colleagues and family that drive her closer to an impending tragedy suggested by the film. Invasive questions about her sex life from a predator masquerading as a detective, instances of gaslighting from her husband about her past, etc. What's even sadder, is the fact that no one appears to be listening to her despite her telling them about the difficulties she constantly grapples within herself. These moments paired with the actual events shaping her journey, appear to be cruel tests of her faith, proving the tale of Abraham at the beginning of the film to be fitting to her own story, and in actuality, proving to be far worse than that of Abraham's. Although it sounds like Jana is a constant victim throughout, she is never really written or even portrayed as one at all. It’s a wise decision from both filmmaker and performer, giving us an incredibly strong woman fighting to discover herself in all this as a mother, wife and finally, a woman of faith. Sukhitashvili is spectacular as Jana, delivering a performance that is as hypnotic and striking as the film sets out to achieve so effortlessly.

Beginning is not a film for everyone. It’s a slow-burning meditation on what it means to be a woman at odds with the world both physically and spiritually. It’s a captivating piece of cinema that will prove to be an important footnote in Georgian cinema’s bright future, as well as the burgeoning talent of Dea Kulumbegashvili.

Where you can watch it: Mubi (Worldwide)

28 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page