In_Bloom

Georgia / France / Germany 2013

Directors: Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross

Screenplay: Nana Ekvtimishvili

102 minutes

 

In Bloom is, in one sense, a conventional coming-of-age drama, but the fact that it transcends its genre is evidenced by the numerous awards that have been showered upon it at film festivals around the world. I caught up with the film at its UK premiere, as part of the Birds Eye View Film Festival promoting women filmmakers. It is in its depiction of women’s lives in a troubled part of the world that In Bloom really has an impact.

The story takes place in Tblisi, Georgia, in 1992 against the backdrop of the conflict with the neighbouring Black Sea state of Abkhazia. However, we are only aware of this indirectly, as the film concentrates on the undercurrents of violence in everyday life. The story follows the lives of two schoolgirls, Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria), who are friends. Natia’s home life is blighted by a drunken father who has shouting matches with her mother, whereas Eka’s father is absent for reasons that are not immediately apparent. Early in the film we see the two girls in a long queue for bread, where the people jostle each other and complain about people who they think are cutting in. As Eka is walking home with two loaves of bread she is bullied by two boys, an occurrence that turns out not to be a one-off.

Natia, on the other hand, is receiving attention from boys, not all of it welcome. She gives short shrift to Kote (Zurab Gogaladze), a local bad boy who shows up in a car filled with his mates and tries to chat up Natia, and who later gives her flowers. By contrast, Natia has a better prospect in the handsome figure of Lado (Data Zakareishvili), who – like the good guys in Westerns – is neatly dressed in white. However, Lado has to go away for a little while. Before he does, he takes Natia aside and gives her a pistol. He tells her that this is so she can protect herself. A while later, when Natia discovers that Eka is being pushed around she gives her the gun.

The appearance of the gun creates a tension that runs through the rest of the film, even when the weapon is hidden out of sight. Will it be used? Who will use it? What will be the circumstances that lead it to be used? In one scene we see that merely brandishing the gun solves a problem on the streets, and in a subsequent scene where the gun is not available a terrible event occurs. But we also see that, rather than solving problems, guns can also be the problem. Back in the bread queue a couple of big men in fatigues, carrying machine guns, simply walk up to the front of the queue and grab armfuls of bread. They do not even feel the need to respond to the protests of the crowd. The benefits and the costs of gun possession, as demonstrated in this local context, could well be taken as a microcosm of the role of armaments in solving disputes  between nations.

But whether or not this reading of the film is intended, the aspect that really comes through is the toughness of the women’s lives. Eka and Natia observe the difficulties faced by their mothers, and then have to fight to assert their own freedom and identity within a culture where masculinity dominates. In one of the classroom scenes the female teacher can only watch helpless as a big lad leads a walkout (the kids all disappear to the local fair).

In Bloom has almost a documentary feel in the way it is shot. There are long gaps between cuts and in many scenes the camera follows characters as they go about their business. In the first bread queue scene the camera follows one of the girls as she approaches the queue, then goes up the steps after her, and then follows into the crowd as people start to shout and jostle each other.

I don’t know anything about the political situation within Georgia, or how much life has changed since 1992, but it was interesting to see in the final credits various acknowledgments of assistance from branches of the Georgian government. Perhaps that is a positive sign.

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