Alexandre Koberidze on Cinema and Football

Tommaso Donati, following football events that were connected to elements in Alexandre Koberidze's cinema, felt the need to contact the filmmaker for a discussion on his cinema, specifically in relation to football, and to the power and magic of both sport and cinema.

Miracles in cinema and on a football pitch

Tommaso Donati (TD): Watching your film What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? we learn that the place where you watch a football match cannot be casual. So, I want to start this conversation by simply asking you where you watched Leo Messi's World Cup victory this winter. What did you feel in those moments following the final whistle?
Alexandre Koberidze (AK): I was lucky enough to see the game in Buenos Aires. At that time every place and every second in Argentina was special, so I didn't go to a special place to watch the game but to a beautiful pizzeria with few screens. It was a very intimate and quiet private piece of time with many different emotions. I think something very beautiful happened with Argentina's victory, it was a great team, really a Team. In 2014 Messi almost won the World Cup alone, but you can't win alone in football, and that's an important lesson for everyone. This was a team of friends who supported each other, loved their leader, but also knew how important they were themselves. It's wonderful that all of this was achieved by a group of friends who loved and respected each other, who were able to focus and be free at the same time, who had hope in each other. When Gonzalo Montiel converted the last penalty, it was a moment of pure happiness because usually a victory is not such an interesting thing, but such a victory after all these years and in such a game is a real victory, a deserved victory – and that is how a victory becomes interesting. Something happened that seemed so far away just a month before. I think we can learn a lot from this kind of dramaturgy that “someone” prepared for us. So many broken hearts, so many disappointed minds around the world got a little glimmer of hope after this win. In that sense, Leo is a true hero.

TD: What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?, which is about enchantments, seems to have cast a positive curse on the world of football, with Argentina's World Cup victory and the consecration of Kvaratskhelia's talent at Napoli?  Everything seems to connect symbolically and geographically, bringing together the destiny of three figures who represent this sport in their essence and pure magic: Messi, Maradona and Kvaratskhelia. I find this triangle a miracle, so I suppose you also believe in miracles?
AK: How can you not believe in miracles when you observe the trio you mentioned? What Diego did and what Leo and Khvicha are doing now does not belong to our world. By our world I mean the flow of human existence that is torn out from the flow of nature. Sometimes some people manage to become part of, let's say, this rhythm. It's like stepping into the river and letting it carry you somewhere without doing anything, a complete freedom while belonging to the flow of time, space and some matters that we don't know much about. In most cases it's just seconds and in those seconds “magical” things happen - those people you mentioned have the ability to step into that flow more often and longer than the others – that's it.

TD: Every time I see Kvaratskhelia move and touch the ball, I am moved. Something so unexpected at a time when football seemed to have lost its poetry. How would you describe his way of playing?
AK: We call him a bee. Someone who consists of passion, discipline and a lot of flower dust.

TD: Football, like cinema, is something that is projected onto screens and is thus transformed into artificial images. Rarely do people get to watch a live football match, so for many fans football remains something that stays closely co-linked to a screen. What relationship do you see between football and cinema?
AK: I have to admit that watching football on a screen is very charming, with all the close-ups, slow-motion, replays and cuts. I think you can get much more emotional in the stadium and feel everything in the huge group of people, and I would reject all the slow-motion and replays and even editing, but close-ups are too interesting, they can't be replaced in the stadium. I don't do a lot of close-ups in my films, and we know that can be very difficult in filmmaking generally, but to see someone while they're in the flow that I was talking about above, and to see him or her very closely, it's just something wonderful. I want to thank all the professionals who work on this for this incredible narrative they give us every weekend. But for me, the same is as true for cinema and football: I love watching both, but I prefer to do it myself – to play with the ball and to play with the camera.

TD: How are football and sport rooted in Georgian society and how much do you think it can alleviate social and political problems in our society?
AK: I would say we love football more than anything else, but who does not? I know from myself that the love of football is not something you learn, not something you absorb through being socialized, it is given when you enter the world, you already carry your passion with you.  In terms of facilitation, I can give many examples. What Kvaratskhelia is doing now is amazing, I could talk about it for hours, but I will remember another episode: in 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia, Irakli Tsirekidze had a semifinal against a Russian athlete on August 13. It was judo – in this sport a millisecond can decide everything – and you need perfect concentration. So, it is almost impossible to imagine what was going on in Irakli's heart when he had to step on the tatami against a Russian guy, at the same moment when the Russians were bombing his homeland. I remember sitting in front of the TV, and it was one of the few moments when we were not watching the news, but the Olympics. He won, and he did it in the most beautiful way
– I would like to show three images from that final moment:

TD: Your experience of watching Tsirekidze makes me think about the power of the images, of the precarious boundary between the poetic and the more prosaic ones. What does the act of seeing represent for you and how do you relate it to your cinematic research process?
AK: For me, filmmaking is a way to learn seeing. The more I work, the more I see. I think it's different for everyone, everyone has to find their own way to learn how to see, how to hear, how to feel the rhythm around us and so on. Sometimes I overlook things I wanted to see and that makes me sad. My English is limited but in Georgian we have many words for seeing that mean different ways of seeing. It's very hard to see everything when you live in a big city today, with so much information, so much injustice, so much that is wrong. I think our brain chooses to filter things, to see but not register most of what's around us, and I can understand that. If you register everything, you go crazy, but in that filtering, the most important things can get lost.

TD: How do your projects come about? What fascinates me in your films is that they are full of digressions; they are like magic boxes where everything fits in and works and we don't ask why.
AK: Thinking about films has become a way of living, the boundary between working and not working has completely disappeared. In every moment you can hear something that can become part of a film or even the main idea for the film, or you can see someone or something that gives you another idea for another sequence or scene or just a new thought. That's how I live now, and I think that's why my films are the way they are. It's not a concentrated working on a ready-made idea but more, as I said above, a process of learning to listen and to see the environment.

TD: And listen to music, I guess. Music seems to play an important role in your films. What is your relationship with it and with the conservatory [editor’s note: music school] as a place?
AK: I spent a lot of time listening to music. I think it's one of the best things to do, because it brings us closer to the great rhythm of the environment, which I called “a river” above. If there is a hierarchy in art, I think music and poetry together are above the clouds, while cinema is like an early flying object, mostly rolling on the ground and sometimes jumping quite high or even flying for brief moments. I haven't spent much time in the conservatory, but I love visiting music schools for children, especially in Kutaisi. I would like to make a film about these music schools.

TD: What is your unrealizable project or film?
AK: A film about a football World Cup held in Georgia, where I am part of the Georgian national team, where all participating teams in the fiction play with real football stars, and all stadiums in the film are full of real people.

TD: What project are you working on at the moment?
AK: Dry Leaf is the title for the film I'm working on right now. It's a road movie set all over Georgia. We already shot half of it last summer and we want to finish it this summer. It's not an easy task, because deciding that filming is over means that our travels are all over, which will be a pity, but I think at least in the next 2-3 months that won't happen. Since we work in a tiny team of four people – me on camera, my brother on sound and our father and another guy as actors – it's not that hard to plan trips. Also, because we use fairly basic equipment, it's never an expensive decision to film more. Of course, it has to end at some point, but as I said, it won't happen tomorrow. Dry Leaf is a term used in football to describe a kind of kick of a ball where you can't predict where the ball will end its journey, as with a dry leaf falling from a tree, and also with our film.

I can share a kind of synopsis with you:

Lisa, a photographer, goes missing. The last information on Lisa is that she's been photographing football stadiums in seven different villages all over Georgia. Her dad Irakli decides to search for her and travels to those places. Levani, Lisa's best friend (who is an invisible person) sets off to help. As the scenery changes from one football stadium to another, people change and people's stories change. Tensions build upon those simple and sometimes fun adventures as every football pitch and every visited village leave less of a chance to find Lisa at all.

Yes, the football thread seems to continue to haunt my cinema then.


About Alexandre Koberidze:

Alexandre Koberidze was born 1984 in Tbilisi, Georgia. He graduated in directing from the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB). He has made several short films and his first feature film, Let the Summer Never Come Again, won the Grand Prix at the FIDMarseille. His latest and second feature What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? premiered in the Competition section of the Berlinale 2021 and was awarded the Fipresci prize there.


Alexandre Koberidze | Director

First published: July 16, 2023