Even though the red carpet for the long-awaited Hollywood action film about Georgia’s 2008 war with Russia was rolled up almost a week ago, contrasting opinions and emotions remain boiling in Tbilisi. Originally entitled “Georgia”, 5 Days of August is an attempt to portray Georgia seeking international support as a free, sovereign country.
Hollywood celebrities Andy Garcia, who plays the role of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in the film and Sharon Stone - who does not appear in the movie - attended the Georgian premiere on June 5. Their appearance provided much buzz for the extravagant premiere, which was followed by a grand evening in which the proceeds were sent to the August war’s sufferers.
“To me it’s not necessarily a movie about my role as a president... I consider it and feel most of us will consider it as an anti-war movie,” Garcia said at the film’s press conference.
Renny Harlin, the Finnish director, who attained fame thanks mostly to his high-budget action films Die Hard 2 and Cliff Hanger, recalled how it became his “passion” to tell Georgia’s story after meeting refugees and becoming familiar with the reports on the war made by international organizations.
Harlin develops the drama around atrocities witnessed by Thomas Anders, an American journalist played by British actor Rupert Friend and a Dutch war reporter, portrayed by American actor Val Kilmer.
The most peaceful and romantic scenes center on the relationship between Thomas and Tatia, a US-educated Georgian girl with Emmanuelle Chriquiy, a Canadian TV and cinema actress of Moroccan origin playing the role.
In parallel, the audience sees Saakashvili’s emotional meetings with the State Minister Temur Iakobashvili and Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili discussing Georgia’s strategy on how to handle the Russian-backed South Ossetian separatists, who are described as becoming increasingly militant.
Political messages can be heard and read on both levels: “We fought in Iraq for your sake…Where is America now?” – asks Tatia rhetorically to Thomas. As bombs drop down from the Russian fighter jets over the Georgian villages, Saakashvili, too, is concerned with the same question - “Any news from the U.S.?”
The United States is not the only target of criticism, however. The viewers also hear Garcia mentioning the European Union’s reaction in a similar disappointing tone.
Overall, the film’s message is that Georgia was left alone by the “whole word” to fend for itself against Russian aggression.
Due to this straightforwardness, those Georgians who are critical of the Saakashvili government or just love high art think that the movie’s success will not go far.
“This movie aimed at telling the world once again the story of a ‘kind Georgia and an evil Russia.’ Unfortunately, for the thoughtful audience, the outcome will be absolutely adverse,” Georgian movie critic Ninia Kakabadze told a local news agency.
It is because of this extreme political sensitivity that this Hollywood film finds itself in the crosshairs of Georgia’s arts critics, with some condemning the quality - even calling it propaganda.
Slamming the dramaturgy of Harlin’s film, Tbilisi-based movie reviewer Gogi Gvakharia expressed doubts in his blog whether 5 Days of August is capable of gaining any new friends for Georgia. “The lack of talent can isolate us even from those people who undoubtedly supported us in the ‘Georgian-Russian war,” he wrote.
Attendants at the premiere disapproved of the “vaguely-built” characters of the main actors – something essential to inspire the drama-loving audience, especially in the absence of it being a full-fledged thriller- a must for entertainment fans.
As crucial as the political image is for Georgia, the image the film portrays with respect to the country being a suitable holiday destination is equally important, as tourism is one of the main drivers of the Georgian economy.
“There is nothing like this beautiful country,” Harlin told journalists. Garcia described the Georgian people as “extremely-warm hearted.”
Harlin’s ability to portray Georgia as a beautiful country with hospitable people has survived the criticism. Charming landscapes, which would “inspire adventure- loving Western viewers” to come to Georgia - was the only positive point mentioned by Gvakharia.
While critics disliked the film’s ideological overtones and political bias, Saakashvili did not appear on the red carpet on Sunday. But even in his absence, the government’s involvement in the production process was clear from the beginning.
The movie’s co-producer is Papuna Davitaia, the Georgian State Minister for Diaspora Issues, the Ministry of Defense provided the military hardware necessary for the battle scenes and the presidential palace was used for the scenes involving Garcia.
As they began filming in 2009, it was originally reported that the film’s budget would be $20 million. According to updated information, only $12 million was spent, smaller in comparison but still high for Georgia.
International writers see Harlin’s film as a counterbalance to the Russian-made movie Olympus Inferno, which shows the Russian position on the war – something described as a rightful intervention against Georgian military attack.
“Both countries have competed to put their own spin on the 2008 conflict,” wrote Matthew Collin of AFP, referring to Olympus Inferno, released in 2009 and directed by a Russian film director and scriptwriter Igor Voloshi.
Following Tbilisi, 5 Days of August was premiered in London and is due to hit US movie theatres soon after.