Documentaries are usually very raw and have a distant relationship with the viewer. Salomé Jashi does the opposite by creating a personal environment, leaving the audience wondering what is real and what is manipulated to seem real.
The feature The Dazzling Light of Sunset (2016) directed by Salomé Jashi is a documentary about a Caucasus rural village in Georgia. It follows a small local news team of two people whose content is not very exciting, such as the story of the capture of a rare species of owl, considering the lack of interesting events happening in the village. However, this team reveals a very great charisma by always being efficient with their resources and to face their work professionally.
This movie has an extraordinary cinematography. Every shot is carefully composed as if there was some kind of fetish for balance. Even though the color grading seems a little bit saturated, there is a lot of colors, especially in the beauty pageant scenes. Everything looks symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing.
Another particularity in The Dazzling Light of Sunset is the director’s choice for a static camera. The only movement is in the very first shot where it is shown palm trees and a beach, which later the audience finds out it is a wallpaper – first by seeing its reflection in a mirror and second in the last scene when they are ripping it off the wall.
In fact, the game of showing things through their reflections is a constant in this movie. Besides this mirror in the local news team office that was used in a very interesting shot where we only see the character in the reflection of the mirror, the reflections are also evident during one wedding, when the audience does not see the fireworks directly. Instead, it is reflected in the windows of a building behind the characters. This is not a very common tactic present in documentary films, which somehow brings in the classic fiction practice into her movies achieving a very unique cinematography language.
Throughout the movie, it is established a contrast between the static camera movements and the nonstop presence of characters moving around with cameras in their hands. The local news team is always walking with their camera and there is also a very interesting shot of a group of children singing to a group of disabled people. A lady is shooting a homemade video and is always all over the place making sure she does not miss a detail. Even though there are not any camera movements, it is barely noticeable because of the overwhelming behavior of the characters that are never quite in the same space.
Jashi’s previous work has always had a more critical political approach to the topics she was exploring, but for the first time, she tried to be more positive. By the end of the movie, her crew talks about how she should have shown more landscapes and characteristic events of the village in order to achieve this positive approach. However, the way she films creates an intimacy between the audience and the place itself, as well as with the characters, which is an accomplishment in this genre. Documentaries are usually very raw and have a distant relationship with the viewer. Jashi does the opposite by creating a personal environment. The audience is invited to this village as if there was not a screen dividing them.
Although she creates this personal environment, The Dazzling Light of Sunset leaves the audience wondering what is real and what is manipulated to seem real. With the statement made by her crew about what she should have done, it is left open in the air whether she accurately showed what happens in that village or if there are some fictional traces about it.