The boxy body of the digicam turns right into a lure in “Beginning,” the masterful debut function by the Georgian filmmaker Dea Kulumbegashvili. For the movie’s opening, the digicam crops itself on one finish of a small Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall and stays there, unmoving, because the congregants slowly filter in and the preacher begins his sermon. It doesn’t budge even when, practically eight uninterrupted minutes into the shot, a Molotov cocktail flies into the room and explodes into flames, scattering the panicked worshipers.
The scene is a warning to viewers of this unsparing movie: Fear the body. Locked in its inflexible, rectangular grip, you’ll be unable to flee what’s onscreen or anticipate what awaits simply exterior.
“Beginning” follows Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili), the preacher’s spouse, as she offers with the fallout of that firebomb assault. A former actress, she has given up her profession to assist her husband’s mission in a predominantly Orthodox Christian city exterior Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. The movie ensnares her in circles of spiritual and patriarchal persecution: The police take no motion on the assault regardless of there being surveillance footage of the perpetrators, and when Yana’s husband goes to town to seek the advice of with neighborhood elders, a detective arrives at her doorstep. In one of many movie’s many queasy tableaux of simmering violence, this unnamed man interrogates Yana in her lounge, preying increasingly more humiliatingly on her standing each as a cultural minority and a girl.
Power-plays of religion and gender hint acrid paths throughout “Beginning,” however neither is the central topic of the movie. There’s little psychological or sociocultural element within the film’s fastidious compositions, which repair Yana in shadow-flecked rooms and landscapes as stifling as they’re attractive.
Instead, if Kulumbegashvili’s movie is about something, it’s the act of seeing — of witnessing. Such is the impact of the violence that ensues when Yana encounters the detective close to her dwelling within the useless of the night time. Kulumbegashvili holds the bone-chilling scene for what looks like an eternity, protecting us at a distance that solely amplifies its horror. If this take a look at of viewer endurance is a bit sadistic, it’s additionally exceptional in how cleanly it strips the scene of any sensationalism. Rarely has a movie made me so painfully, viscerally conscious of the impotence of spectatorship — of the doubtful take away from which we watch struggling.
As the movie’s cloistered body closes in on Yana, “Beginning” plunges us additional into despair — till its mystifying coda opens the film into a complete different world. Kulumbegashvili leaves us with an ethereal reprieve from her movie’s corporeal terrors.
Not rated. In Georgian, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes. Watch on Mubi.