Critique of “The Other Me”: A confused mirror of self-examination

Georgian writer-director-producer Giga Agladze was a musician, documentary filmmaker and Caucasus Regional Director of the David Lynch Foundation focused on Transcendental Meditation. Yet none of these things have any obvious connection to his feature directorial debut, or make any sense to him, other than having Lynch on board as a prominent executive producer.

Filmed in 2019 in Tbilisi with a largely British cast, “The Other Me” has Jim Sturgess as a man whose sudden blindness is sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical, sometimes both. It’s symptomatic of a movie that takes the most arbitrary path possible to an eventual point that feels unconnected to much of what’s come before. Its cast battling material with little real-world or emotional logic, attempts at uninspired “surreal” elements both conceptually and aesthetically, it’s a misfire whose intentions are as murky as its results are unfortunate. Gravitas Ventures opens on 10 or more US screens on February 4, concurrent with the release on digital platforms.

Things start off unpromisingly with this hoary climax chestnut, the scene in which a protagonist with an apparent desire for death caresses maniacally on the night roads while his terrified passenger shouts, “Drive slower!” You’re crazy!” We never find out what triggered this incident, but Sturgess’ next protagonist (named Irakli in publicity materials, but not in the film) is diagnosed by a doctor as having lost his sight due to an unnamed disease for which there is no cure.This only aggravates the rift with his wife (Antonia Campbell-Hughes, also identified only off-screen as Nutsa), whom he keeps pushing away, then to complain that she’s not there for him.

After such a spat, he falls asleep on a bus, waking up at his point of arrival in the countryside. There, he meets a mysterious woman (Andreja Pejic), telling her: “I’m a bartender, but my real passion is architecture. She says she believes in her talent. This triggers abortive hugs, after which he says to himself, “I don’t even know your name. “I don’t have a name,” she replies with a poker face that would inspire awe if Pejic had any other expressions at hand.

Their near-romantic attraction becomes a fixation as our hero experiences increasing bouts of blindness, mixed with hallucinations in which people wear costume party masks and paintings come to life. There are flashbacks to his rural childhood, when he was bullied by his father (Jordi Molla) and his peers. He has an irritating time chatting with his wife and best friend (Michael Socha). The latter two also spend time in undeveloped subplot relationships with each other and with his US ambassador employer (Orla Brady).

We’re presumably meant to see the character of Sturgess as a great frustrated artist – but we never see his art, or even hear his supposedly original ideas about it. Histrionic scenes come out of nowhere, like when the mystery woman throws a tantrum at the hero’s (Rhona Mitra) mother’s old purse, or when he apparently can’t identify his own best friend’s voice in the next room. Even the one visually striking fantasy sequence, a black-and-white vision of Sisyphus, is marred by the stupidity with which we have to be told the characters are lifting “the weight of all their suffering” up a hill.

In the end, the central theme of Agladze seems to be gender dysphoria, our protagonists appearing as the two sides of a personality long divided by trauma and repression. But to say that “The Other Me” gets there in a convoluted fashion is a wild understatement, and to call the story’s earlier aimless detours deliberate misdirection gives it too much credit. The disorganized script often feels at odds with the direction and vice versa, without even any kind of useful stylistic tension. As people go faceless for him, Sturgess exclaims, “Maybe what I see East the real world!” Yet the film’s reality feels disconnected (perhaps in part because of the tin-eared English dialogue), and its pedestrian fantasy aspects – they even fail as contrasting spheres.

Sturgess, an actor who has had the misfortune to appear in several of these fantastic misses (“Upside Down”, “Stonehearst Asylum”), attempts to navigate his way through this clogged script. He only manages to look overworked, as does Campbell-Hughes to a lesser extent. Pejic, a prominent transgender model with limited acting experience (most notably in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”), is out of depth playing the kind of cipher role that could easily baffle a more seasoned performer, being given lines like “Soon all will be revealed.” The supporting players hit their marks with professional aplomb, though the individual scenes they worked with often unnecessarily test belief.

All of this could still have taken off as abstract art if the underdeveloped ideas of “The Other Me” were wrapped up in striking imagery and bold editorial gambits. Despite the OK design contributions, however, the film’s widescreen images have a rather flat and washed-out quality, and the two credited editors seem to have simply pieced together the clunky narrative as best they could. Some degree of bonding, if not transformative glue, is at least provided by Paul Haslinger’s original score.