IN SERIES: THE DISPLACED PEOPLE SPEAK
About THE TEA DOLL DREAMS
Which film is more important, a formula movie that doubles and triples its multimillion investment into more millions of dollars, or a low-budget indie which generate profit as frequently as Las Vegas gaming machines release fortunes out of their greedy mouths, or zero-budget "sub indies," mostly seen by friends and business associates? If the answer seems obvious, then think again. Box office numbers are not the only success meters. For instance, aesthetics ignores these numbers altogether. Instead, it looks for the miraculous presence of something indefinable that touches human hearts. From this point of view, the success of an artistic creation is measured by it's ability to lift a soul above its daily concerns into a higher realm of finer energies -- closer to God and His angels. This phenomenon has a name - catharsis, in Greek - katharsis. According to Oxford dictionary, it means "purification of the emotions by vicarious experience," in other words, cleansing by co-experiencing hero's challenges, pain and suffering. The tricky part is that there are no success recipes, creators really cannot tell how they caught viewers' attention, and it really doesn't matter who the heroes are - masters or slaves, saints or sinners, or a bunch a murderers as in Hamlet, or if heroine is a prostitute as in La Dame Aux Camelias.
In our era of fast food and mass media Hollywood decided to resolve this inconvenient situation and take mystery out of catharsis by settling for its imitation, often called quasi-catharsis -- car chase and fist fight scenes at the end of formula thrillers. Quasi-catharsis teases our sense of justice and compensates our weaknesses by allowing identify with a strong and merciless hero. Instead of purification, we get short-lived satisfaction from illusion of being "strong" and "victorious."
Over time, repetitive quasi-catharsis has dulled our perception to the extent of refusing vicarious experience. In the motley crowd of Oscar-2005 nominees, there was one film that offered purification. It was not Crash, or Brokeback Mountain, it was Capote. If a viewer would only follow the hero, writer Truman Capote's story of his forbidden and doomed love...
...The two murderers killed four innocent people. However, Capote fell in love with one of these two convicted murderers, gave him hope, used feelings as a key to open his heart and make him talk about what had happened on that fateful night and more -- what had led to it. Then writer suppressed love preparing himself to witness the execution of the man he fell in love with -- in order to finish his writing, get his book out into the world and learn, would public love his work? It did! The success was there and the start of decline was also there. Capote would not finish a single novel any more. Was it the price of betrayal? Or was one too many lines crossed? The joint experience of Truman Capote's story could lead a viewer to deeper perception of his or her self.
When my TV screen witnessed adopted screenplay, achievement in directing and best picture Oscars moving away to other films - technically splendid but stripped from ability to touch hearts, I thought that it might be time to resume search for catharses in films. I thought that in the movie land, burned by the acid of quasi-catharses, the unknown region of indies that do not have to worry about the box office numbers, may be still green and promising.
Here it is! The Dream of a Tea Doll A short film, made on a near-zero budget by Nana Tchitchoua, a young woman from Grusia, a former Soviet republic, called often Georgia. Her marriage brought her to the United States and she is keeping a day job in a Los Angeles museum. Her short film The Dream of a Tea Doll, a vision of a Hofmanian doll in a Russian Tea Room, is not her first one. The previous film, Impressions From Rustaveli is a traditional poetic documentary, a colorful vision of the exotic world of Shota Rustaveli, a Georgian poet who lived in 12th century and is considered one of the greatest poets of the medieval literature. Rustaveli's The Knight in the Panther's Skin is revered as Grusia national epos. Nana's homage to Rustaveli -- the breathtaking picture of alpine people's customs, costumes, folk dances, festivities, unique sound of famous male chorus on the backdrop of Grusia panoramic views has traveled international film festivals, receiving everywhere warm reception and admiration.
However, after Impressions, Nana opted for a quiet black and white short film about a strange Tea Doll. It sleeps in a box and in her dream walks through the museum's exhibition rooms looking at marvels of another time, probably the enthusiastic '30s with its faith into mechanical inventions and foreboding of dark future in such films as Murnau's Vampire. Then the doll sees people, the humans. A hostess, dressed as a servant of rich and famous in b/w movies of the same time period of the '30s - with white apron and hair combed into a tight knot on the back of her head rinses tea cups. At the same time, the guests arrive to share each other's company. The Tea Doll wants to become a human. She tries to make herself useful by pretending to be a rack for holding coats and hats. She does her best, delivers cups with hot tea, she tries to fit in by changing into a glittering party dress. But oh, a plate slips out from her clumsy fingers, fells on the floor and breaks into peaces.
The doll, now already half-human, grabs the broom and sweeps the floor. Of course, she sweeps the slivers of her dream. She will never become a human! It is over! She collapses! Coming to senses she decides to face he truth. In her shoe, she finds a folded piece of paper. It is a drawing of a Russian samovar (water boiler built in a specific, decorative manner. It burns charcoals to boil tea water far a large family, mostly a merchant's family) Our Tea Doll discovers that she is part of a samovar's set. Iit includes a Tea Doll to keep a small china tea pot (with strong tea) warm. She returns to her box and fells asleep again. The vapor of a Russian tea machine envelops her painted lifeless face, the face of a doll!
A mutual friend visits saying, "Do not call her now, Nana went to Grusia, she is building a house over there..." Our mutual friend is joking, "When house will be ready, we all will all go to Grusia, and will stay in that house..." A strange joke, a sad joke!
This is why the b/w innocent short movie about a tea doll provokes co-experience! We, the displaced souls (some of us are from the former Soviet Union, still enveloped in the vapor of the Russian samovar) have become ... dolls, ready to return to boxes of our origin! We did our best, we dressed as everybody else, we swept floors, we rinsed tea cups, we worked our buts off and we failed to become... Do we really fit only into our boxes?
Of course, Nana Tchitchoua's Tea Doll is only a metaphoric image of an inner problem of so many of us. We failed to become. Instead of fitting in, we settled for becoming dolls.
Is this film asking for compassion or help? No. This short film doesn't judge, or finger point. It suggests the feeling of incredible isolation and loneness - a feeling well known to anyone who had start over in a lad of strangers. How many times we have heard, "If you do not like it here, go back home!" Many have done it. The exodus from the former Soviet Union is no more one way process, only - out, and never back!
Lately I read again an ironic story about the criminals from the former Soviet Union. According to the rumors, they were planted here by Brezhnev's diabolic plan to make our life here a living hell by turning all of us into a crowd of "usual suspects" of criminal world. The Hollywood did the rest demonizing us to the extent of monstrous mythologization. ... In our days, some of these planted criminals, who had learned a few new tricks here, are the first to return home.
I am one of "tea dolls", but I will not go back home. No, I have not burnt the bridges with my native Estonia, a small Northern country at Baltic Sea. However, I would not return, as I decided to deal with "being boxed in" problem here, in my new country. But was I aware of it before watching Nana's film?
Here has to come an interesting talk with you... How about it?
THE DREAMS OF A TEA DOLL,