Kakhi (Levan Tediashvili, 1972 and 1976 Olympic champion in freestyle wrestling) works as a trainer in Tbilisi and patiently tends to his wife (Laura Rekhviashvili), who recently broke her arm. His brother (Temur Gvalia), is more of a screw-up: his ineptitude in gambling is only matched by his short temper and creativity in coming up with excuses for why he keeps screwing up. Fortunately, Kakhi is an even-tempered guy, more interested in mending situations than in assigning blame, so before he heads off to America to visit his son Soso (Giorgi Tabidze), he arranges for for his brother to temporarily take over his job, and also to sleep in the gym (since his brother gambled away the rent money).
Soso is studying medicine in the United States, or at least that’s what his father thinks he’s been doing. When Kakhi arrives, he finds his son working as a mover and living in a less than glamorous hostel on 4th Avenue in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn (hence the title). The landlady, Natela (Tsutsa Kapanadze), is cut from the same mold as Kakhi: she’s all about making things work. Which is good because operating what is essentially a rooming house full of a very mixed bag of characters requires that kind of attitude. Soso, unfortunately, takes after his uncle rather than his father: he’s both an unsuccessful gambler and a creative schemer whose plans frequently go awry. His current idea is to get a green card through a fake marriage, which he says will allow him to take the exams to qualify as a doctor (whether he has any chance to pass those exams is a question left unasked and unanswered).
The enterprising Soso has a woman lined up to be his “spouse”: the beautiful and charming Lena (Nadezhda Mikhalkova, daughter of director Nikita Mikhalkov), a social worker who seems to like him. Like Natela, however, she’s no fool—cash on the barrelhead or the deal’s off—and it turns out Soso has not only gambled away the “marriage” payment, he also owes a substantial debt to a local mob boss, who employs a couple of bruisers to encourage his debtors to pay up.
Kakhi wants to help his son, because that’s what he does—he helps people, he doesn’t judge them. This assistance takes a variety of forms, from leading Soso in abdominal and breathing exercises to administering first aid after a beating from the mobster’s goons to trying to earn the money needed to pay back his debts. The latter efforts provide much of the film’s comedy, and the unhinged nature of these efforts escalate over the course of the film.
The real selling point in Levan Koguashvili’s Brighton 4th is not the plot, but the way the film creates a portrait of Brighton Beach and its inhabitants. The interiors and character types don’t change that much whether the story is taking place in Georgia or America, and that’s a choice based in reality. Brighton Beach (in the general vicinity of Coney Island, a long subway ride away from the bright lights of Manhattan) has for decades been a magnet for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and they’ve managed to recreate much of their former lives in this little part of New York City. The neighborhood has been nicknamed “Little Odessa” because so many Jews moved there from Ukraine and Russia, and they have been joined since the fall of the Soviet Union by immigrants from other parts of the former USSR as well.
Many of the actors in Brighton 4th, including the lead, are nonprofessionals, which usually works as intended. When it doesn’t—well, a little tighter editing could have gotten rid of the most painful examples of amateur acting without harming any of the story lines, and I’m not sure why four editors were necessary for this film. Coupled with the use of real locations and unfussy cinematography by Phedon Papamichael (whose varied resume includes Nebraska, Walk the Line, and The Trial of the Chicago 7), the result is something that frequently feels like documentary rather than fiction.
Brighton 4th was Georgia’s nominee for Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards (spoiler alert—it didn’t win), and won several other festival awards, including 3 at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival: Best Actor for Levan Tedaishvili, Best Screenplay for Boris Frumin, and Best International Narrative Feature for Levan Koguashvili and Boris Frumin. | Sarah Boslaugh