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How Truffaut’s ‘400 Blows’ Inspired Sikharulidze’s Coming-of-Age Tale ‘Panopticon’

George Sikharulidze’s inaugural feature film “Panopticon” holds a significant personal meaning for the director. This film, premiering globally in the main competition at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, reveals a coming-of-age story centered on a young man’s quest for self-identity amid the lack of any substantial parental guidance.

Sikharulidze’s childhood was spent in a challenging neighborhood in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, during the 1990s. Raised by his grandmother, mother, and sister, he found inspiration for his first movie from his own life experiences and François Truffaut’s notable 1959 film “The 400 Blows.”

A graduate of New York University’s Media and Communications program, Sikharulidze initially wavered about pursuing a career in filmmaking. However, watching influential movies like Truffaut’s classic motivated him to study directing at Columbia Film School. Truffaut’s film features Antoine Doinel, a troubled youth troubled by strained relationships with his parents and teachers. This portrayal resonated with Sikharulidze’s own estrangement from his father, leading him to pay homage to Truffaut by showing the film’s title on a television screen in one scene of “Panopticon.”

“Panopticon” narrates the tale of Sandro, a young, deeply religious man entangled in his sexual feelings and troubled by a strained relationship with his mostly absent father. The themes of religious struggles and familial discord mirror Sikharulidze’s personal experiences.

Though not raised in a religious household, social pressures in their teenage years drove Sikharulidze and his sister toward Christian Orthodoxy. They created a small prayer corner at home, attended church, and even brought their father along, reflecting deep-rooted societal influences.

The film also extends its scope to depict the current Georgian social and political landscape. The script juxtaposes the old traditional world with modern realities, showcasing Sandro caught between these conflicting domains. Sandro’s quest for belonging leads him to a movement characterized by Christian Fascism, echoing elements of contemporary Georgian governance where Christian fundamentalism is leveraged to gain power and distance the nation from liberal ideals like tolerance, independence, and freedom.

As an intellectual director, Sikharulidze chose the title “Panopticon” for its symbolic meaning. The term reflects society’s tendency to control individuals by keeping them visible while power and authority figures remain unseen. When Sandro’s father departs for a monastery, he transfers his observational power to an invisible deity. Sandro’s physical desires clash with his internalized sense of sin, compelling him to mask his yearnings through actions like touching a woman “accidentally” or exposing himself to a neighbor.

In the film’s concluding scene, Sandro faces a possibility of redemption. A college professor discusses French philosopher Michel Foucault’s interpretation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison design, noting that “visibility is a trap.”

However, Sikharulidze reveals a hopeful perspective on Georgia’s current youth, who make themselves visible to gain freedom and advocate for progressive causes like a European future and independence. This active visibility differs from entrapment, representing an honest and commendable effort to achieve change and hope.

Looking forward, Sikharulidze aims to maintain faith in humanity, exploring new intellectual horizons. He is currently researching two projects: one about a blind female therapist and the other delving into Artificial Intelligence, trans-humanism, and body transformation.

Source: Variety