MIFF 2015: Corn Island

A farmer observes the soil on an island. He holds it and caresses it, lifts it up to his nose and smells it, he even tastes it, allowing the dirt and grit to roll around on his lips and tongue. The land rules here.

The island is a tiny oval, no more than twenty meters at its widest, floating quietly between the borders of Georgia and Abkhazia. This is an area presently in political conflict and many ancient rituals of survival remain intact.

Director George Ovashvili presents a slow and modest portrait of struggle and determination in Corn Island, a film about one man’s plight to grow crop in an entirely impractical location. With help from his respectful adolescent granddaughter, we watch as this weathered and gentle man constructs his own world on this tiny island. They build a shack using ancient techniques and tools and eventually the barren land of the opening scene is transformed into a fully functioning farm.

Observing the determination and ritualistic craftsmanship of the unnamed man is one of Corn Island’s biggest cinematic joys. These are skills lost to much of the industrialised world and we are privileged to be privy to the building of this farm from scratch in almost all of its entirety. In this respect Corn Island reminds me much of All is Lost, a kind of slow burning, single location masterpiece almost completely devoid of dialogue, showcasing the immense skill, daunt, challenges and drive of one man and his granddaughter.

Ovashvili also utilises the gorgeous setting to his advantage, giving us these glorious, wide 35mm shots of the island as it changes and contorts throughout the seasons. In fact, everything changes on Corn Island and as the film slowly progresses we learn, through subtle cinematic techniques, that Ovashvili is telling a story far greater than that of one man and his land. He is showing us the circularity of existence and the inevitability of time. He questions war, humanity, family, refuge, adolescence and language.

Corn Island really is one of those conceptually massive films, a film that manages to convey so much without really saying anything at all. It was my first masterpiece of MIFF 2015 and a film I believe everybody should witness on the big screen.

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