Zeitgeist Films
Nino Khomasuridze as Marina in "Since Otar Left . . . "

Nothing really earth-shattering happens in "Since Otar Left. . . . " There are no special-effects sequences, no car chases and no explosions.

Instead, this French-made drama is a character-driven film in which the people simply live their lives in the face of some trying circumstances. Consequently, it feels very real, as if the filmmakers have recorded some actual real-life moments.

The story does get a little predictable, but fortunately, it's not as intrusive or as tedious as that might make it sound. Such a no-frills story comes as a welcome tonic from all the big-budget but soulless summer fare that's currently cluttering the multiplexes.

"Since Otar Left. . . . " follows three generations of the Goguebashvilis, a family living in Soviet Georgia. Ana (Dinara Drukarova) is an idealistic college student. Her mother, Marina (Nino Khomasuridze), is still grieving the loss of her husband years ago. And Ana's grandmother, Eka (Esther Gorontin), lives for letters from her son, Otar.

That creates something of a dilemma for the others when they receive word that he has died in Paris under questionable circumstances and as a pauper. (The family — especially Eka — was expecting big things from Otar, a former physician.)

Needless to say, they don't have the heart to tell Eka. So, with help from one of Marina's friends (Temur Kalandadze), they create some "correspondence" from Otar to keep Eka appeased while they figure out what to do next.

Unlike the recent comedy-drama "Goodbye, Lenin," which had a a few similarities (primarily, concealing the truth from a loved one), there's no whimsy and there are no fantastic elements. Instead, co-screen-writer/director Julie Bertucelli

keeps the tone dramatic. And there's a resulting ring of authenticity, of truthfulness and honesty.

Good casting helps. The performances by all three leads are solid, particularly Drukarova (a former child star in her Russian homeland). And the low-key Gorontin is a real charmer (in that grandmotherly way).

"Since Otar Left . . . " is not rated but would probably receive an R for scattered use of strong sexual profanity, a brief, fairly discreet sex scene, some crude sex talk, and a brief scene of vehicular violence (overheard). Running time: 99 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com