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27 Missing Kisses, a 2000 Georgian film by Nana Djordjadze, is an ensemble piece about whimsy, love, and lust in a small-town summer. The film is filled with absurd and sometimes fantastic images; a layer of unexpected tragedy keeps the viewer riveted. (AEL: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Contributing Editor Amelie Lasker
It was clear to me that this film would be fun when a teen boy gets diarrhea from love at first sight. A few minutes in, a doctor shows an X-ray of a woman who has swallowed three forks “because she’s in love.” In this story, people are continually doing wild, irrational, and sometimes beautiful things out of sheer romantic momentum.
“Sybilla” (Nutsa Kukhianidze) has moved to a small town to stay with her aunt after her parents have separated. There, a widowed astronomer, “Alexander” (Evgeniy Sidikhin), lives with his son “Mickey” (Shalva Iashvili). A military wife, “Veronica” (Amaliya Mordvinova), is trying to convince her husband, “Lavrenti” (Elguja Burduli), to have a baby with her, but tends to be cold and possessive, so she turns to other sources for affection. Her multiple affairs include Alexander and “Pjotr” (Levani), a playful, flirtatious factory worker. Other mostly unnamed characters include a doctor and his wife, a headmaster, and a French teacher.
In dinner table conversations, the adults are judgmental of promiscuity. But underneath that, few of their marriages are loyal. And over time, their messy secret lives start to leak out into the open.
At the center of the story is a love triangle: Mickey crushes on Sybilla, and Sybilla crushes on Mickey’s father. Micky is so possessive of Sybilla that he threatens people at gunpoint when they express desire for her.
But Sybilla’s not going to let him stop her. At night, she bikes barefoot in her nightgown to visit Alexander, who will have “deep” chats with her while he looks at the stars . . . but won’t return her affection explicitly.
Sybilla is brimming with teen anger and mischief. She jumps theatrically into a river, saying she wants to lie at the bottom “like Ophelia.” She’s always in places she shouldn’t be, watching the adults fight and sleep together. Her aunt and family members chastise her, but it only makes her more rebellious.
In the meantime, a sea captain (who is just called “Captain,” played by Pierre Richard) drags his old ship into town. Once at the bottom of a bay, the boat was uncovered when the water dried up. The captain dreams of floating the ship again, so he spends days dragging it on roads and across fields, looking for a body of water.
When the local movie theater screens the erotic film Emmanuel, the teens aren’t allowed to see it, but they sneak in. They watch gleefully as all the adults they know sit together watching the film.
Inspired by the film, Veronica and Pjotr leave together. Veronica tells Pjotr he’s too “big” for her, so–and this is the most absurd part–he takes two steel rings from the factory where he works and puts them on to make himself “smaller.” The next thing we know, he’s calling the doctor in the middle of the night for help. The rings are stuck on him. With what seems like the whole town awake helping, the only solution they can find is to use factory equipment to crush and remove the rings. This is definitely the image I will always remember from this movie. It’s funny and also horrifying.
I love Sybilla. I wish she weren’t so sexualized, by men and by the camera (she’s fourteen, let’s remember). But she’s spirited and candid and an entertaining heroine to watch. Her story is genuinely tragic, partially because she is so sexualized. She’s trying to grow up and find her identity, but she’s in an environment surrounded by men who openly express their lust for her and by women who shame her for her “inappropriateness.”
The crush-love triangle surrounding Sybilla becomes fatal because in this small town, adults act just as irresponsibly as children do, and the boundaries between playfulness and seriousness blur. It’s impossible to have harmless teen infatuation when grownups are involved.
© Amelie Lasker (11/20/20) FF2 Media
Featured Photo: Nutsa Kukhianidze as “Sybilla.”
Middle Photo: Shalva Iashvili as “Mickey.”
Bottom Photo: Pierre Richard as “The Captain” and Evgeniy Sidikhin as “Alexander.”
Q: Does 27 Missing Kisses pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
It took me a bit to think of a scene with only women. But Sybilla does spend some time talking to her aunt and other female elders about her behavior.