"A Chef in Love" didn't win the best foreign language film Oscar, but its vivacious director, Nana Djordjadze, won a lot of hearts during her brief visit here for the Academy Awards. She's a stunning woman of 48 with a mass of curly red hair and is as passionate as her film, which opens Friday at the Port Theatre in Newport Beach and at Edwards South Coast Village 3 in Santa Ana. You can believe it when she says, as she did when she received her nominee's plaque at a private reception the Saturday before the Oscars, "It's a film about a big love, made with a big love."
The first film from the Republic of Georgia to receive an Oscar nomination, "A Chef in Love" stars internationally renowned French comedian Pierre Richard as a man with a shady and colorful past who finds his true calling when he opens, to instant acclaim, a fabulous restaurant, the New Eldorado, in Tbilisi. The only trouble is his timing, for the New Eldorado is striking gold just as the Red Army marches on Georgia. A man who loves women as much as he loves food, he finds that his predicament is not helped by the fact that he is caught up in a tempestuous affair with a beautiful Georgian princess (Nino Kirtadze).
"The first time I saw Pierre Richard was a party in Paris," recalled Djordjadze as she sat in a lounge at the Beverly Hilton with her friend, Latvian-born filmmaker Julia Robinson, who helped her when her English faltered. "I saw an absolutely different man from the one I knew on the screen. He looked so sad, so intelligent. I asked him, 'You've never had a chance to change your image?' 'No one gives me this possibility,' he said. So I told him I had a script based on a true story." In short, Richard accepted and wound up with what is surely his richest part, allowing him to be funny but also romantic, gallant and brave.
"A Chef in Love," steeped in darkly romantic fatalism and earthy humor, was written in, of all places, Venice, Calif. It happened this way: Djordjadze and her husband, writer Irakli Kvirikadze, who had met a contingent of Writers Guild members in Tbilisi, came to Hollywood when Kvirikadze won the Hartley-Merrill writing prize established by actress Dina Merrill and her husband, Ted Hartley. Djordjadze and Kvirikadze were out on the town--"It was such a nice jazz club," said Djordjadze--celebrating with some Writers Guild friends when Kvirikadze developed a shoulder pain.
He was rushed to Cedars Sinai, where he underwent emergency heart surgery, and only afterward did Djordjadze learn that the Writers Guild had already taken a collection and paid for what Kvirikadze's insurance did not cover for the operation. Kvirikadze, a tall, silver-haired and bearded man, has lived in Venice ever since, as he and his doctors are reluctant for him to fly. As a result, Djordjadze, who has been based in Berlin for several years and has made many trips to Venice, asked her husband to write the script for "A Chef in Love." "I'm so thankful for America, I find my second life here," Djordjadze said.
She would be perfectly happy to work here if a project were right for her. Indeed, Djordjadze describes herself as an "in-between" person, who maintains a permanent residence in her beloved Georgia but is used to a peripatetic existence, glad that she has so many friends all over Europe that she had no trouble at all raising money from about a half-dozen countries to make "A Chef in Love"--especially once Richard committed to it. She has one son living in Georgia, another in Washington, D.C., who met his wife, from Ethiopia, when they attended Santa Monica College, and they've recently made Djordjadze a grandmother.
"A Chef in Love" has a present-day framing story set in Paris, in which veteran French star Micheline Presle plays the chef's niece. "She's so great, so helpful," Djordjadze said. "It was so easy to communicate with her. And Pierre was so humble. He understood everything, he had no star attitude. He got with the Georgian spirit, and he fell in love with the country as he fell in love with his character.
"I made the film at Adam and Eve, a good studio in Tblisi, and I couldn't have made the film without the head of the studio, Temur Babluani. He's a fine, prize-winning filmmaker in his own right who became a producer and has many projects now in co-production with France. My co-executive producer, with Babluani, for post-production, was Thomas Bauermeister.
"Next I want to make a movie about a Georgian Jewish family. We have had a large Jewish population for 2,060 years, and I'm very happy and proud that, unlike other countries, we have no history of anti-Semitism."
Djordjadze's friend, veteran Hollywood director Irvin Kershner, has agreed to produce and serve as artistic advisor.
Djordjadze's mother was German, and on her father's side she had an aristocratic French grandmother. "When the Red Army invaded Georgia, my grandfather 'pushed' her and their daughter out, but my grandfather and two of his sons were killed. My father did not see his mother for 50 years, in Paris, in 1972. They had managed to contact each other through the Georgian Folk Dance Ensemble when it was performing in Paris."
Both Djordjadze and her husband, who joined her late in the interview, have astonishing and terrible tales to tell about the years of Soviet rule. You feel such experiences explain why their film is so rich in emotion.
Thrilled that her film was nominated and delighted to have the academy roll out the red carpet for her and her foreign colleagues, Djordjadze was still radiant at the Board of Governors Ball even though her film had not won. By way of a final farewell, she offered a firm handshake and smiling, said simply, "Next time."