Venice 2019: Director Dmitry Mamuliya On ‘The Criminal Man’ And Investigating The Genealogy Of Crime

Director Dmitry Mamuliya’s The Criminal Man (Borotmokmedi) tells the story of George Meskhi, a 28-year-old deputy-chief engineer from an industrial town, as his life is turned upside down by accidentally witnessing the murder of a famous football goalkeeper. Following this incident, the film takes us down the twisted road that leads a man from being a witness to becoming a murderer, and the mental struggle along this perilous journey.

Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Dmitry to learn more about the film ahead of its premiere at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival.

Q: Can you tell us about the character of George Meskhi and why witnessing a murder has such a troubling impact on him? Has the mundanity of his life made him pre-disposed to such a reaction?

A: ‘He had cut himself off, as with scissors, from everyone and everything’ – this is how Dostoevsky characterises Raskolnikov. Perhaps the same could be said about our main character.

He is an outcast, a pariah. He seems to have no life of his own. He is separate, and life is separate. And thus, being a little insignificant man, he becomes a witness to a murder and this fact connects him to life in the most miraculous way. The murder seems to materialise for him, as if becoming a thing of its own, his property. The murder witnessed from afar inhabits the character like a virus, captures him. It sometimes happens in life that one lives an ordinary routine and suddenly some event turns him over.

Our character takes ownership of the murder he has witnessed. He always returns to the scene of murder, as if it was full of meaning, as if it was the only place where life was huddled.

Q: Is there any significance that the murder he witnesses is of a famous goalkeeper? Would the murder of an ‘ordinary’ person have had such a profound impact?

A: I think the character of the goalkeeper makes this murder more meaningful, mythological. Whether this murder would have had the same effect on our main character, if, say, a salesman or a banker were in the place of the goalkeeper – I don’t know. Perhaps yes, perhaps not. Football bestows certain grace and beauty upon the image of the slain.

But still, I think that football here is not the key. Our main character is greatly impressed by the ceremony of the murder itself. He is fascinated by this very image, its majestic beauty. It was conceived so from the very beginning: the scene of the murder was to take on a life of its own. In the film, we had to see it during different seasons: in the sun, in fog and in the snow, while football was meant to run as a parallel refrain, like the paranoia of this film.

The image of the murdered goalkeeper becomes a kind of trap for our character, from which he can no longer break out. Not possessing his own life, George seems to come alive and make some sense, once he finds himself within the life of another. 

Q: What did you want to explore by following Giorgi down this dark path in ‘The Criminal Man’? 

A: I was interested in the genealogy of crime, how crime originates in a person’s soul and how it grows out, how it gradually takes possession of it.

Initially it was intended so: all that the hero encountered on his path, any fact or person should have left a certain mark on his face. He had to accumulate these traits, and by committing various acts related to infamy, violence, crime, he supposedly had to throw coins into the piggy bank of his own self. And at the end of the film, he should have already assembled himself like a puzzle. The real murder is the last detail in this puzzle.

Q: I was glad to hear you mention Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime And Punishment’ earlier, as my mind immediately sprung to the novel when I read the synopsis for ‘The Criminal Man’. What were your inspirations – fiction or non-fiction – when creating this story with Archie Kikodze?

A: Certainly, these themes and impulses are present with Dostoevsky and Camus in The Stranger. But for me just as important were the facts of mental confusion, and I found this impulse in Chekhov’s The Black Monk, in Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata and in Leonid Andreev’s The Thought.

Q: Can you tell us about working with lead actor George Petriashvili to capture this character and his emotional state through this journey?

A: Working with George was easy. And in life, he somehow resembles our main character. He gripped everything perfectly, and instantly connected with the role. When working with a non-actor, it is crucial to synchronise with him. That is almost in a physical sense, like in synchronised swimming.

The thing is that you cannot discuss the motivations and intentions of the character with a non-actor, you have to become the character yourself and transmit the information on a tactile level, through some kind of vibes.

Q: Are there any other significant characters in the film? Do you explore their reactions to George’s decline?

A: Supporting characters seem important to me in the same way as, say, the secondary or tertiary characters in the painting of a medieval artist. Let’s say Jesus in the foreground, and in the second, third, fourth and so on plains – the apostles, someone else, a harlot sheltered by a tree, warders scattered across a field, a bird sitting on a tree. And all of this makes up one ensemble.

We were guided by the principle that any person, even their fleeting glimpse in the film, was to contribute to the portrayal of the main character, be part of his atmosphere, part of his world. Therefore, we designed this world very carefully, and even the extras in the film are the bearers of the essence that is important to us in the main character.

As for the second part of your question, it seems to me that what’s important in our film, is not how the supporting characters react to George, but rather how he reacts to them, how he reacts to the beautiful women who meet him on his way. How he is filled with their feminine essence. These women seem to grow out of the fact of the murder he witnessed. Their images seem to represent part of this fact.

Q:The Criminal Man’ will premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. How special will it be to represent Georgian cinema and participate in the Orizzonti competition?

A: I am very pleased that the film is participating in the Orizzonti competition. And I really hope that I managed to tell the story in modern “language”.

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