Tribeca 2021 Review: A Father Wrestles with His Son’s Debt in Levan Koguashvili’s Spry Comedy “Brighton 4th”

“You need to strike me unexpectedly and act as if nothing’s happened,” Kakhi (Levan Tedaishvili) giving his son’s girlfriend Lena (Nadezhda Mikhalkov) a lesson in wrestling in “Brighton 4th,” Levan Koguashvili’s beguiling dramedy in which the most profound moments have a way of sneaking up on you. Under the eternally grey skies of Brighton Beach that makes it feel as if there’s always weight being put upon them, Kakhi would seem to know a thing or two about getting leverage on even the most formidable of foes in the ring and out as a former champion from Georgia, something that will come in handy in America where he’s settled down to pull his son Soso (Giorgi Tabidze) out of debt owed to a low-level gangster. But the familial obligation may be as much of an opportunity for the now-retired wrestler, who may miss his wife back home but not much else as a life of routine doesn’t suit him well.

That’s a good thing because of the surprises Koguashvili and screenwriter Boris Frumin have in store for him, escorted into New York in a hearse — the only car available to the fellow Georgian ex-pat who drives him into town – and one can only hope he won’t be leaving in one. Not since James Gray’s “Little Odessa” has Brighton Beach, essentially a reconstruction of the former Soviet Union along streets instead of national borders, been given this loving attention on screen and it’s up to Kakhi to navigate its ins and outs better than his son, who came to the U.S. with the intention of pursuing a medical degree but finds himself waylaid by his gambling habits. The $14,000 that Soso owes to Amir (Yuriy Zur) doesn’t seem all that insurmountable in the grand scheme of things, but having Kakhi’s help feels like an additional burden when it is clear he’s already seen as a disappointment to his father and the money is enough to prevent him from getting married to Lena, which could secure him a green card, relieving him of the stress of potentially being deported.

While in a community that sets its own rules, Kakhi gets pulled into other mishegoss, living in a tenement house with fellow Georgians, and the gentle giant becomes an unlikely enforcer, a telling sign of a place where everyone seems to be something other than what they really want to be. (One need only look over at his bunkmate, a restaurant doorman who occasionally breaks out the voice he used as an opera singer, to attest to this.) However, “Brighton 4th” is so rich in cultural detail, you won’t want to leave for as restless as its characters may become, alternately charming and poignant when the old ways of doing things are unexpectedly brought into everyone’s new lives. It is a bit poetic then that “Brighton 4th” is elevated considerably with the cinematography of Phedon Papamichael, the “Ford Vs. Ferrari” director of photography who hasn’t shot something on this smaller scale in at least a decade, if not two (omitting Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska”), and affords Koguashvili with crisp lensing and evocative lighting to let the director’s slightly surreal sense of humor shine. It may be a rare event when the sun breaks through in “Brighton 4th,” but as a film it’s resplendent nonetheless.

“Brighton 4th” does not yet have U.S. distribution.