Before embarking on his Hollywood career with a forthcoming remake of his debut film 13 (Tzameti), Géla Babluani has taken the time to collaborate with his father, noted Georgian filmmaker Temur, on a film set in their home country. The film echoes many of the themes of Babluani’s debut, albeit filtered through a lyrical, far less violent and arguably more mature aesthetic: the father reigning in the son’s excesses, at least until the tense climactic sequence.
The set-up is simple but intriguing: we know the tourists’ intervention is going to lead to trouble, but in what form it is impossible to say. The story unfolds at a deliberate pace, but never becomes boring – the unfamiliar landscape is beautifully photographed and there is a continuous, well-timed ebb and flow of incident and revelation, proceeding inexorably towards a terrible event which nobody even attempts to avert. A sense of tension is skilfully maintained, and as viewers we find ourselves in the same position as the three ambiguous leads: horrified by the inevitability of events, but eager to see how everything will pan out.
The political critique here is inherent and rather obvious. Western tourists fail to understand the cultures in which they find themselves, they are self-absorbed and ignorant, and ignore the struggles and realities of ordinary people in their pursuit of selfish ends. Filmmakers and news gatherers are equally guilty: they exploit such suffering for financial gain. This technique of allying the audience with likeable but morally reprehensible lead characters is also nothing new; there’s nothing here to rival, say, Michael Haneke’s expert viewer manipulation.
The characters remain frustratingly underdeveloped. As the tight-lipped young escort George Babluani essays much the same character as in Tzameti: an enigmatic holy innocent confronted with forces far beyond his control. The three students are amusing but empty, simple caricatures necessary for the plot. The only actors who manage to bring their creations to life are both familiar from Babluani’s earlier film – Pascal Bongard’s Nikolai is pleasingly uncertain, a sad-eyed working man buffeted by circumstance. And Augustin Legrand somehow manages to be simultaneously creepy and loveable as a travelling mute, the only character who ever seems to know what’s going on.
Much like Tzameti, Legacy is an entertaining drama hinging on a brilliant but frustratingly underdeveloped central idea. Both films lack character, and each builds tension expertly before dissipating it in a weak, disappointing final act. More interesting as travelogue than cinema, Legacy is never less than entertaining but never more than adequate.