Netflix short film/doc ‘The Trader’ (2018) REVIEW – a mesmerizing 20-minute glimpse into another culture

Never. Never, have I ever been so utterly transfixed and transported by a short film before. This 20 minute short film-doc (I’m calling it that because it is so beautifully shot and narrativised that it goes way beyond being simply a documentary) follows a trader as he visits a small rural, poverty-stricken village in east-European Georgia. It’s an honest, brutally honest, blunt, mud-caked picture of poverty in a culture profoundly different from our own. But there’s also raw human emotion that I’ve never seen captured on film in such a way. It is clear that the people in this isolated village have never seen a camera before, and they gaze in wonder down its lens, as if deep down in the glass eye there might be some sign of those silently watching. There are a number of stand out moments. One is when a group of children dance with such utter joy and abandon as the trader blows bubbles into the air around them. Another is when an elderly woman barters desperately with the trader, who wants five kilos of potatoes for a simple grater. She can’t afford it, but offers one lari, clearly more than she can spare. The trader refuses. Unconcerned of the camera she bares her soul, ‘I need this grater. I’m alone, I have no-one’, she pleads repeatedly. Tears well in her eyes, the desperation palpable. We itch for the trader to show mercy. It is a gutwrenching moment. Another scene follows a young family. They stand outside their small ashen house, the concrete world crumbles, but the iced mountains are resplendent in the distance. In the camera’s gaze the family stand transfixed, as if waiting for something. Then the camera moves into their house. The rooms are dark, barren but for a few scant pieces of furniture. In the center of the main room there is a large silver pot filled with soily potatoes. A boy of seven or eight plays with a kitten nearby, before the cameraman calls him over and asks what he wants to become when he grows up. The boy is so taken aback he cannot think straight; as seconds pass you can see the panic and excitement swilling behind his eyes. Must get it right, must get it right! Then before he can answer he’s seen running through the streets of the small village alongside a cow at least three times his size. He guides it effortlessly, as if he has somehow tapped into its mind. Later he and a friend gaze wide-eyed into the back of the trader’s van, discovering alien trivialities, gleefully asking the trader their price. There is a suspension of time in this village, a purity of the people, who are free of and untouched by capitalism and technology. There is raw humanity here which is so rare to see. Watch it now.

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