The Trader (Sovdagari) Review

Image result for the trader (sovdagari)
AKA: N/A
Genre: Documentary
Year Released: 2018
Distributor: Netflix
Origin: Georgia
Running Time: 23 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-PG

Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Black Gold, Poverty Inc., The End of Poverty, Down and Out in America
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:

-This is the debut work of director Tamta Gabrichidze. Prior to that, Gabrichidze did costuming for the movie L’Invite.

-The Trader won a Sundance Short Filmmaking Award.


It feels good to actually catch up with all the latest movies. I’m sure you’ve known about my “plight” of trying to watch newer anime, but the logic also applies to live-action films. I don’t have as much time to check out the independent film scene or what’s going on at Sundance, Cannes, or the other major festivals across the globe. What makes this more intriguing is that I get to review a movie from a country I’ve never covered before: Georgia. No, I’m not talking about the state in America with Atlanta, Savannah, or Athens. I’m referring to the Republic of Georgia. For those of you who didn’t know of that country, it’s a transcontinental nation smack dab in between Europe and Asia. Georgia borders Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. That’s a brief geography lesson for all of you, so without further ado, let’s check out this short documentary hailing from the Caucasus region of Eurasia.

The Trader AKA Sovdagari (the original Georgian title) takes place in a rural part of this country. There’s a trader by the name of Gela Kolochovi (pronounced Ghel-La Ko-La-Cho-Vee) who makes a living by peddling the most random wares such as shoes, clothes, toys, jewelry, and other thingamabobs in town. Some people would naturally pay in bills and/or coins which they can certainly do, but the most common courtesy around these parts aren’t Euros, Dollars, or the Georgian Laris, the populace pays with potatoes. Seriously, people will pay kilos of spuds in order to buy some things regardless of how useful it is to their lives. This documentary is a snapshot of Gela’s business and the towns where he does business in.

This was my first time getting exposed to Georgian cinema, let alone seeing what that country looks like, but it was eye-opening to me. I really liked the cinematography as it shows the nature of the towns. The coloration was spot on with the camera work and the filming was certainly on par with many Hollywood films. This was a noticeable contrast given the subject matter, but I never thought it was too pristine as the pure grit of the Georgians was on full display. I also felt as thought I saw a snapshot of something that was uncomfortable with the impoverished rural areas. 

Gela was an interesting subject whenever he was on the screen. He is savvy with his particular business and he has a huge drive to sell almost anything. Gela has a huge inventory and he gets it through reselling some things from other stores while also gaining a lot of potatoes in the process in the rural towns. He’s certainly not dressed like a typical business man as he comes in with well-worn clothes. At one point, he’s wearing a shirt that doesn’t cover all of his stomach (Gela is a very large man to say the least) when he’s selling his inventory to his clientele.

While The Trader was eye-opening, I didn’t think everything was perfect. I know I’ve given this criticism for other films whether they are documentaries or fictional projects, but there’s definitely poverty porn going on. Unlike the other movies I’ve criticized, this was the first time applying it to a movie taking place in a majority White country. Most of the locales are riddled with shacks and dilapidated buildings around while people suffer just to get even a kilo of potatoes. I do feel like the tone is more sympathetic compared to projects filmed in let’s say Africa or Latin America, but that raises a double standard even if poverty can affect anyone regardless of race. I also thought Gela was unintentionally creepy at the couple of times where he’s trying to sell stuff to the children. I know he’s not going to do anything malicious to them and he encourages them to get there parents, but the situation with him selling things from his van didn’t help. The other people aren’t mentioned by name and I wanted to know more about some of the other people shown like the old man who couldn’t get to college or some of the women who worked in the potato fields.

The Trader was a good and short watch. I was impressed with the production of this film with the camera work and editing. Some of the shots had a bit of a poetic feel to them. It was certainly eye-opening seeing the plight of Georgia with their economic downturn as people resort to paying with potatoes. However, there was an obsession of poverty going on and the tone came off as reaching as those people deserving more help than other people in the world. No one should be affected by poverty, but the narrative was a bit skewed. It does get a recommendation from me nonetheless though.


Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like atypical documentaries.
Subtract 1-3 points if you can’t stand poverty on full display.

Pros:
-Great cinematography
-Eye-opening conditions about rural Georgia
-Nice slice-of-life approach

Cons:
-Poverty porn
-The tone reveals a double standard compared to other continents
-Lack of spotlight on other people

Final Score: 8/10 points

Content Warning: The Trader is a tame documentary. The only objectionable things are one example of mild profanity and a brief scene of a dog peeing. The subject matter is dark with a huge economic recession though.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The Trader (Sovdagari) is property of Netflix. The movie poster is from Wild About Movies and is property of Netflix.

4 comments

  1. Nice review. I’m curious as to where is this one example of mild profanity? Apart from that, there’s a couple of things that I must say disagree with.
    1. I don’t like how you describe Gela as “unintentionally creepy”. Just because you see some older man that happens to be alone with some kids. He’s just there, at work, showing them stuff their parents could buy. Nothing creepy about it.
    2. Just because this movie’s topic is poverty it doesn’t mean that there’s an obsession with poverty going on. Poverty porn?? I cannot— This short movie simply is about poverty in rural area, it doesn’t obsess over it one bit.
    3. Double standards? What a stretch. This documentary portrays White people, right, so what, why would you compare it to the ones made on Black people? ….What’s the point….? More so, it’s nonsense to complain that this one goes too easy on the community just because there are movies out there that show also negative sides of say, the Black Community. It’s simply one of many takes on the life of a community.

    Like

    • Thanks for checking out the review. It’s been a few years since I saw this movie, so my memory may be a bit fuzzy with the dialogue. It may have been “damn” but it was so quick and in passing. I’ve seen movies also rated PG with more swearing and with worse examples of profanity, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

      I’ll do my best to address these points.

      1. I know Gela isn’t going to do anything bad to the children when he’s out there selling his wares. I did mention how he tells the kids to let their parents know about what they can by for them. Maybe it should’ve been filmed better where you see the parents in the shot, but that’s just me.

      2. I’ve seen and reviewed worse examples of poverty porn. If The Trader was a fictional movie instead of a documentary, I would’ve been tougher on this film in that regard. I’m not against movies showing poverty on principle, but some films overdo that element. Yes, I know not all parts of Georgia look like this even with my limited exposure to that country’s cinema, but some parts did get too much with exposing it.

      3. Don’t misconstrue this as me thinking that Caucasians can’t be poor. When I made those comparisons and contrasts to other films (documentaries or fictional films), I’ve noticed that while The Trader has a more slice-of-life filming theme in that community in Georgia, I had some thoughts of what it would look like if the people were of a different ethnic persuasion. Speaking from experience, I’ve seen some white people seeing images or videos about poor people who look like them and they have so much sympathy, but if they see a poor Black or Latinx family in the same position of poverty for example, they call them “ghetto” and say they should pick themselves up by their bootstraps among other dog whistle racist phrases. I’m well aware of negatives in other communities and I’ve called out various films that play it up or exaggerate things to use it as low-key propaganda.

      Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed The Trader even with those issues. However, I’d be lying if I said everything was perfect or how some movies handle similar topics.

      Like

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