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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oscar Possibility Cheers Georgians

TBILISI, Georgia -- Whatever the outcome of the Oscars on Monday, Georgian filmmakers feel they have already won. The nomination of the joint French-Georgian production, "1,001 Recipes for a Chef in Love," for best foreign film has been taken as an acknowledgement from above that the country's cinema hasn't lost its spark.

"Even if the Oscar doesn't go to our film, the fact of the nomination is already a victory," says Buba Khotivari, producer of the story of the love affair between a French cook and Georgian noblewoman, called "A Chef in Love" in English. "We will be considered as serious, reliable partners because the film not only emphasizes a high professional level of Georgian filmmaking, but it also proves that Georgia is a stable, peaceful country."

Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia has suffered a drastic energy crisis that makes day-to-day living difficult, let alone filmmaking. This winter residents have had only six hours of heating per day. Movie houses are not heated, and screenings are frequently interrupted by power outages. Meanwhile, state subsidies for the arts have been cut considerably, and to compound the problem for the film industry, several prominent directors have changed careers and entered parliament.

It is no wonder that Georgia's first Oscar nomination has triggered both excitement and relief. "The economic crisis in Georgia posed a serious threat to the film industry, but the Oscar nomination has proved that the quality of Georgian filmmaking is not sliding. It's a real victory of Georgian cinematography and culture on the whole," says Lana Gogoberidze, a Georgian film director.

Written by Irakh Kvirikadze and directed by his wife, Nana Dzhordzhadze, the film is set in modern-day Paris and Georgia at the time of the Communist takeover in 1921. A man in Paris uncovers the life of his fathe -- a French chef who travels to Georgia in 1919, falls in love with a noblewoman and opens a restaurant. The chef (Pierre Richard) and his lover (Nino Kirtadze) enjoy the luxurious lifestyle of the elite before the invasion of the Red Army.

Richard, a French comic actor, seen here in an unusually serious role, won first prize for best male actor at the Karlovi-Vari international film festival, and Kirtadze received an acting award at the Riga international film festival in her screen debut. A journalist based in Tbilisi before starring in the film, Kirtadze had no acting experience when Dzhordzhadze offered her the part. The Oscar nomination "was a pleasant surprise for me, maybe partly because the film has not been a big commercial success in France," says Kirtadze.

The film may not succeed commercially in other countries, either, because of its confusing story line. The opening scene, in which the noblewoman cryptically tells her son, "Your father thinks I am a turkey," is the first of several puzzling, but apparently crucial moments, including the conclusion of the film. But such criticism is mostly expressed privately in Georgia, so as not to spoil the good news of the nomination.

Georgian cinema dates back to the beginning of the century, when the country produced its first full-length documentary in 1912, followed by a feature film in 1916. Georgians continued to make creative and artistic films -- often with simple story lines and deep messages about human nature -- under the Soviet regime.

Tengiz Abuladze's highly acclaimed 1984 film, "Repentance," is regarded as a harbinger of perestroika. The surreal, and at times comic, film about a cruel dictator -- a satire of the Stalinist era -- received numerous awards, including three prizes at Cannes.

Dzhordzhadze is one of Georgia's award-winning directors: in 1985 she won a Golden Camera prize at Cannes for her early film, "A Trip to Sopot."