Abundant Life | Manifestation Affirmations

Georgian writer-director-producer Giga Agladze has been a musician, a documentarian and Caucasus regional director of the Transcendental Meditation-focused David Lynch Foundation. Yet none of those things has any obvious bearing on, or makes much sense of, his debut directorial feature—apart from Lynch being on board as a prominently billed executive producer.

Shot in 2019 Tbilisi with a largely British cast, “The Other Me” has Jim Sturgess as a man whose sudden-onset blindness is sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical, sometimes both. That’s symptomatic of a film that takes the most arbitrary possible path toward an eventual point that feels ill-connected to most of what’s gone before. Its cast struggling against material with little real-world or emotional logic, the attempted “surreal” elements uninspired both conceptually and aesthetically, this is a misfire whose intentions are as murky as its results are hapless. Gravitas Ventures is opening on 10 or more U.S. screens on Feb. 4, simultaneous with release to digital platforms.

Things start out unpromisingly with that hoary climactic chestnut, the scene in which a protagonist with an apparent death wish careens maniacally on nighttime roads while his terrified passenger screams, “Drive slower! You’re crazy!” Just what set this incident off, we never do discover, but next Sturgess’ protagonist (named Irakli in publicity materials, though not in the film) is being diagnosed by a physician as losing vision from an unnamed disease for which there’s no cure. That only heightens the discord with his wife (Antonia Campbell-Hughes, likewise identified only off screen as Nutsa), whom he keeps pushing away, then complaining she’s not there for him.

After one such spat, he falls asleep on a bus, waking at its route endpoint in the countryside. There, he meets a mystery woman (Andreja Pejic), telling her, “I’m a bartender, but really my passion is architecture.” She says she believes in his talent. This triggers some abortive making out, after which he muses, “I don’t even know your name.” “I don’t have a name,” she responds with a poker face that would inspire awe if Pejic had any other expressions on hand.

Their quasi-romantic attraction becomes a fixation as our hero experiences escalating episodes of sightlessness, mixed with hallucinations in which people wear costume-party masks and paintings come alive. There are flashbacks to his rural childhood, when he was bullied by his father (Jordi Molla) and peers. He spends irritatingly argumentative time with his wife and his best mate (Michael Socha). Those last two also spend time in poorly developed subplot relationships with each other and with her U.S. ambassador employer (Orla Brady).

We are presumably meant to see Sturgess’ character as a frustrated great artist — but we never see his art, or even hear his supposedly original ideas about it. Histrionic scenes come out of nowhere, as when the mystery woman throws an angry fit over the old handbag of the hero’s mother (Rhona Mitra), or he seemingly can’t identify his own BFF’s voice in the next room. Even the one visually striking fantasy sequence, a black-and-white Sisyphean vision, is spoilt by the dull-mindedness with which we must be told figures are hefting “the weight of all their suffering” up a hill.

In the end, Agladze’s central theme appears to be gender dysphoria, with our protagonist(s) emerging as two sides of a personality long split by trauma and repression. But to say “The Other Me” arrives there in a convoluted way is wild understatement, and calling the story’s prior aimless detours deliberate misdirection gives it too much credit. The disorganized script often feels at odds with the direction and vice versa, sans even any kind of useful stylistic tension arrived at. As people become faceless to him, Sturgess exclaims, “Perhaps what I’m seeing is the real world!” Yet the movie’s reality feels disconnected (perhaps in part due to the tin-eared English dialogue), and its fantasy aspects pedestrian — they fail even as contrasting spheres.

Sturgess, an actor who’s had the ill luck to appear in several such fantastical misfires (“Upside Down,” “Stonehearst Asylum”), tries to stormily emote his way through this clogged-pipe scenario. He only succeeds in seeming overwrought, as does Campbell-Hughes to a lesser extent. Pejic, a leading transgender model with limited acting experience (notably in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”), is out of depth playing the kind of cipher role that might easily flummox a more practiced performer, given lines like “Soon, everything will be revealed.” Supporting players hit their marks with professional aplomb, though the individual scenes they’ve given to work with often needlessly strain belief.

All this still might have taken flight as an abstract object d’art if “The Other Me’s” underdeveloped ideas came packaged in arresting images and bold editorial gambits. Despite OK design contributions, however, the film’s widescreen images have a rather flat, washed-out quality, and the two credited editors seem to have simply patched the awkward narrative together as best they could. Some degree of binding if not transformative glue is at least provided by Paul Haslinger’s original score.

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