Here’s a cinematic resume you don’t run across every day.
Levan Tediashvili is an Olympic and world champion wrestler from Georgia — the one that used to be in the Soviet Union — turned actor and now film director.
So it’s no wonder that he’s instantly credible in his first big screen star vehicle, playing an aged Georgian wrestler trying to tidy up an untidy family in “Brighton 4th,” a most engaging tale set in Tbilsi, Georgia, and amongst the (mostly illegal) ex-pats struggling to get by in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.
Latvian screenwriter Boris Frumin (“Viva Castro!,” “Black and White”) conjures up a meandering 90 minute journey through the life of Kakhi, a working class guy still well-known in wrestling circles in Tblisi, a man whose late life quest is helping his struggling family with the little money and skill-set he possesses.
The difficulties in this are set up in a beautifully roundabout way. We don’t meet Kakhi (Koguashvili) straight off. Let’s begin in a Tbilisi sports pub where the locals sit and smoke, utterly absorbed in a soccer match between Liverpool and Manchester United.
Why they’re so caught up becomes obvious when one viewer starts raging around the place, spilling drinks and carrying on until quietly confronted by another punter who also bet on the game, a gambler who happens to be Kakhi’s brother (Temur Gvalia).
It’s only after that dust-up that Kakhi learns that brother has blown the cash he was supposed to use to pay bills and fix up his apartment, money earned by his sister-in-law, working and sending cash home from America. Plainly, this isn’t the first time it’s happened. And this time he’s lost the family apartment.
Kakhi knows a lost cause when he sees one. He takes the brother to his old gym, gets them to take him on as live-in custodian, and moves on. He’s going to America.
Kakhi and his bedbound wife (Laura Rekhviashvili) worry about their son, Soso (Giorgi Tabidze) in Brooklyn. That’s why he’s flying to to New York.
He finds himself picked up by Soso in a hearse and taken home to the crowded brownstone hostel his sister-in-law Natela (Tsutsa Kapanadze) runs, a boarding house bubble stuffed with Georgians where English is never spoken and everybody — young and old — is struggling, working multiple jobs and trying to get by, get a green card and live the American dream.
Soso would love to marry Lena (Nadezhda Mikhalkova), even if he considers it a “fake marriage.” It’ll solve his green card problem and allow him to take the tests to work in medicine, which was his training at home. But that costs a lot of money and his primary work is manual labor, moving. And then there’s the $14,000 gambling debt he owes to the hulking local poker room entrepreneur Amir (Yuri Zur).
Kahki lies to his wife back home, lies to Natela about her husband and their apartment, sighs to his son about “straightening out” and tries to find work through Natela so that he can tidy up this other mess on the other side of the world.
As a director, Koguashvili slides us into “Brighton 4th” like an old man slipping into a slightly-too-hot bathtub. We visit the Tblisi pub and the fresh market, with its open air butchers and cheese merchants (the son wants him to smuggle local cheese into America). We hang out in the off-the-books hostel, where colorful men from different ex-Soviet cultures mix and mingle, bond and drink. Kakhi’s attempt to take on one of Natela’s jobs, caring for an elderly couple, becomes a bizarre sidebar. We duck into the poker room where Amir and his Georgian and Russian patrons gamble, and we see Kakhi enlisted in the problems of other Georgian “illegals,” cleaning hotel rooms for a Kazakh owner who is refusing to pay them.
Eveybody’s broke. Everybody’s got problems. And nobody wants to involve the police, authorities or whoever in solving them. A little muscle, a little talk, a little wine, doled out in equal measure, and maybe we can come to an agreement.
The linchpin of it all is 70something Kakhi, still fit, still running his 40ish son through calisthenics in their hostel bunks or wrestling him in good-natured greeting.
“Brighton 4th” is the kind of ambling, immersive movie that you check out for the chance to visit a different culture and see the world through others’ eyes, but that you remember for its warmth, the connection that binds people who never let themselves be simply resigned to their family obligations.
It begins with fascinating curiosity and finishes with a flourish so touching — so distinctly Georgian — that it brings tears.
And Koguashvili, an unhurried filmmaker and passive, aged yet still muscular presence on camera, becomes a movie star in a role only he could play.
Rating: unrated, violence, alcohol abuse, smoking, profanity
Cast: Levan Koguashvili, Giorgi Tabidze, Nadezhda Mikhalkova, Tsutsa Kapanadze, Laura Rekhviashvili, Yuri Zur and Kakhi Kavsadze
Credits: Directed by Levan Koguashvili, scripted by Boris Frumin. A Kino Lorber release.
Running time: 1:30