Let Us Flow: this mesmerising Georgian documentary combines the personal with the mythopoetic

Quietly weaving social critique into its visually arresting study of life in the Tusheti highlands of Georgia, Sophio Medoidze’s first feature marks her out as one to watch in a country whose cinematic output is increasingly admired in the West.

4 March 2023

By Emily Maskell

Let Us Flow (2022)
Sight and Sound
  • Reviewed from the 2023 Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival

Thundering hooves and whooping cheers echo through the deep valleys that seem to frame Sophio Medoidze’s remarkable debut feature Let Us Flow. This personal, studious documentary follows a ritualistic voyage on horseback through the high mountain villages of Tusheti, in the northeast corner of Georgia. It charts picturesque but treacherous landscapes that contain multiple schisms and dichotomies: tradition at odds with migration, individual identity resisting the collective, and masculinity decoupled from the mountains.

Combining close observation and mythopoetic narrative, Medoidze investigates the habitual journey of the Tush people, who embark on an annual visit to a sacred shrine before participating in a horse race notorious for being as terrifying as it is exhilarating. Not everyone is welcome on the religious visits: the shrines are not accessible to women, excluding them from following in their ancestors’ footsteps. Yet Tush women are indispensable to the villages, governing social hierarchy and investing the young men with equine expertise. This sense of social hypocrisy is heightened by imagery that subtly deconstructs the male villagers’ performative bravado – a feisty mare refusing to stand still, a stubborn ewe that challenges the strength of four grown men.

Such mores suggest a brittle link between past and present, a theme that clearly preoccupies Medoidze. Against an unnerving soundscape of rattling symbols and hauntingly low-pitched strings, tradition and modernity are hauntingly juxtaposed: at one point, in a perfect example of the film’s unpredictable visual texture and mesmeric aesthetic, shots of wooden carvings depicting the first aeroplane to fly over Tusheti in 1954 merge into shots of stone walls spattered with blood from an age-old, still-practised sacrificial ceremony. Such pointed contrasts make the film’s more postcard-like snapshots, as when a horse gazes off into the misty mountains, more arresting in their sheer stillness.

Much of the film’s form and look derives from its subjectivity. Shot over several years, Let Us Flow shows the director, a Georgian native, making her own way through the tight-knit community’s customs, which include not only pilgrimages and horse racing but timed flag-raising and ritualistic sacrifices. Little time is spent establishing bearings; Medoidze rejects ethnographic categorisation or generalisation. Instead, Let Us Flow plays like a personal quest for the director, thanks in large part to her diaristic voiceover; her finger, tracing the outline of mountains or stroking a horse’s wiry mane, creates a distinctive haptic language for the film, an attempt to make ostensibly impenetrable specificities accessible.

Medoidze’s infatuation with Georgia’s landscape and geopolitical milieu, together with her distinctive style, mark her out as a fresh directorial voice in a country whose cinematic output is rapidly proliferating.

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