Metalurg Hotel review – refugees find a home in the dilapidated grandeur of a Soviet-era sanatorium | Movie
DDirectors George Varsimashvili and Jeanne Nouchi have made a melancholic documentary observing the residents of the disheveled and elegantly dilapidated former sanatorium of the title in Georgia. Once a splendid Soviet-era resort hotel with a typically socialist name celebrating industry and work, the Metalurg has for 30 years housed refugees from Abkhazia, the scene of a proxy war between Georgia and forces backed by Russia. Like Nagorno-Karabakh in eastern Azerbaijan, which recently made the news, the Abkhazian conflict has its roots in the collapse of the Soviet Union and has been fueled by neo-war ambitions. Putin’s imperialists. But you don’t need to know any of that to find this film gently moving as it explores the endless sense of displacement, nostalgia, and melancholy that the denizens of Metalurg feel.
Gradually it becomes apparent that most of the men disappeared some time ago and that the majority of residents are single mothers, widows and children. A woman shares a single bed with her 10-year-old football-loving son and has a job in a municipal garden that doesn’t pay well but allows her to spend time with him. He, in turn, clearly loves his mother but longs for the company of other children and spends the lonely hours of his summer days chasing a half-flat soccer ball up the hotel’s grand staircase. Another elderly resident, confused by dementia, was offered to live elsewhere in the neighboring town, but she keeps returning to Metalurg thinking her next stop will be her hometown in Abkhazia.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of newly married couples continue to show up to have their photos taken in the empty ballrooms or under the massive chandeliers, while the light falls photogenically on the chipped wooden floors. Presumably the newlyweds find the faded glory of the sanitarium romantic in some way, but through the lens of the documentarians, the posing and simpering in front of the cameras seems downright surreal. Locals watch from afar, discussing who was the most attractive couple of the day and reminiscing about happier times from years ago back home, like the time one of them spotted Jean-Claude Van Damme at a local film festival.
It’s so unbearably sad that it’s a huge relief to see some families move out of Metalurg and find refuge in brutalist high-rises across the city, where at least there are other children to play with.