Issue 43 (2014)
Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Gross: In Bloom
reviewed by Julie A. Christensen © 2014
Nana Ekvtimishvili’s debut film In Bloom has won the hearts of viewers and juries around the globe. Prizes include the C.I.C.A.E. Jury Award at the Berlin Film Festival; FIPRESCI and The Golden Firebird for Young Cinema at the Hong Kong International Film Festival; Audience Award and Student’s Jury Award at the Milan Film Festival; Special Jury Award at the Montreal Festival of New Cinema; Jury Award for Best Feature Film, Paris Cinema; Best Actress, C.I.C.A.E and Heart of Sarajevo at the Sarajevo Film Festival; the Golden Lily for Best Film, Wiesbaden goEast; Best Film at the Vologda Festival; Best Acting at the Odessa Film Festival; AFI’s New Auteurs Special Award for Personal Storytelling; Blue Angel and Best Female Performance at the Art Film Festival in Trenchin, Slovakia; Best Actor and Best Film at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival; Grand Prize at the Tokyo FilMex; Grand Prix at Almaty’s Eurasia Film Festival; Special Commendation, Best European TV Drama of the Year, Prix Europa; and the Georgian Panorama Award at the Tbilisi International Film Festival. Ekvtimishvili has been named one of Variety’s Ten European Directors to Watch, and In Bloom was one of ten films selected for the Lux Film Prize from the European Parliament. It is, not surprisingly, Georgia’s entry for this year’s Oscars.
A “coming-of-age” film set in Tbilisi in 1992, In Bloom features two 14-year-old girls, Eka and Natia, attempting to live, love, and find happiness in the middle of a hungry and half-deserted city, terrorized by vigilante violence, anger, and retribution, without fathers or male protection in a crumbling, patriarchal society. While the film contains many direct references to Georgia in 1992 (including radio broadcasts about a bombing in Sukhumi District or a curfew in Tskhinvali, as well as bread lines, bride-knapping, Georgian singing and dancing), it clearly speaks to a global audience—a rather frightening thought, actually, that the life and dreams and hopes of these two 14-year-old girls on the background of civil war and urban terror seem familiar to viewers around the world. It is perhaps telling that the greatest number of prizes awarded at any one film festival came from Sarajevo.
The film’s “realism” owes much to Ekvtimishvili’s screenplay. Born in 1978, Ekvtimishvili was indeed 14 in 1992, and she claims to have written much of her girlhood into the film. Adding to the haunting, somber realism of the film are the subdued, often muted or dark tones of the visuals and the minimal diegetic sound. Light blue, grey, dirty white walls, doors, interiors, littered, half-deserted courtyards, empty streets, dark tunnels and pathways, and lurking males, in pairs or small groups, leave the viewer with an ongoing sense of malaise. Moments of total silence, sometimes prolonged, are interrupted by street noise: human voices, a dog barking at night, a few birds chirping in the morning. The sound of water, running or dripping, or pouring in sheets onto the deserted night streets, is ubiquitous, and almost as ominous as the sound of hysteria as dialogue escalates into violent verbal attacks, screaming with the whole body, mind, soul and spirit, a full crescendo of oaths, insults, swearing, and indescribable vulgarities in bread lines, or at the kitchen table.
Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria) are delightful 14 year olds, coming into “bloom.” (That motif is lost in the original Georgian title, grdzeli nateli dGeebi — Long, Bright Days). Their friendship is conveyed brilliantly in the girls’ very movements, walking, hugging, sitting on window sills, having their first cigarette, talking about clothes and boys, fending off male admirers, arguing, then making up. Yet their friendship is one based not only on teenage infatuation, but also on mutual protection. Through years of practice at home, Natia, the class beauty, desired by many, has grown accustomed to fighting back verbally, and is the first to attack, but Eka, the studious, shy, rather plain foil to Natia’s passionate, provocative volatility, may win our greatest admiration. A rare “bright spot” in the film is the tall, handsome Lado (Data Zaqareishvili), who wears brilliantly white shirts. Like a knight, he pledges to protect and defend Natia, but life is short and violent, and of the moment.
A film that brings together personal history with national history, In Bloom is also a “well-told story,” with subtle plot organization, framing, echoing, and intertextuality that takes several unexpected turns. While the pistol Lado gives Natia for her “protection” adds another layer of suspense, it does not play a typical role. Eka’s cab ride in the opening sequence serves as an “establishing sound shot,” as the radio in the cab broadcasts a defense of the right of Georgians to bear arms and calls every Georgian “a warrior.” That opening sequence is echoed in the closing shot, as Eka travels alone to visit her father in prison. The heightened sense of desire and haunting uncertainty in the future is echoed in the theme song of the film, Otar Ramishvili’s “Every Night:”
Every night I walk up your street, longing for you. Life is so short you can see the end. I return home thinking of you until daybreak. Life is so short you can see the end. What do you know, my dear, my heart is breaking. I want to fence off a place in front of your house and stand beneath your balcony till dawn. Life is harsh and bitter. If you have a dream, they will crush it.
Known for his version of “Tbiliso” and other popular city songs of the 80s and 90s, Ramishvili died of heart failure in 2012. The song is sung three times in the film: first by a group of girlfriends at Eka’s flat, sneaking cigarettes and wine in an after-school party until Eka’s mother arrives (Natia at the upright piano); then under Natia’s balcony, by a neighbor’s friend (a key moment in the film); and, finally, by Ramishvili during the closing credits. The adjective “mtsari,”—stern, or harsh, is often used to describe Georgia, and most particularly, the nature and geography of Georgia and the Caucasus, and brings the love song back to the national discourse. Ramishvili’s “Every Night” also provides an ironic counterpoint to the Georgian title of the film, “Long Bright Days.” In truth, the innocent days of youth are numbered here.
One of the most compelling scenes in the film is Eka’s dance. Shot in one long take toward the end of the film, Eka’s traditional Georgian dance is another very important link between the personal and the political. Goaded to show her happiness for Natia, Eka moves to the center of the room, where she performs a moving rendition of a traditional solo dance. It is circumscribed, however, by the strict rules of the Georgian supra (the Georgian feast, with traditional dishes, singing, dancing, and toasting). As she dances, Eka is captivating but captive, caught in a tight circle of guests at this traditional ceremony. Filmed with great patience and control by cinematographer Oleg Mutu (who filmed Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, 2007 and Beyond the Hills, 2012), this long, somewhat tortuous but sensual scene conveys Eka’s sense of self, determination, feminine pride, and quiet, personal resistance to the world around her and provides a very strong counterpoint to the previous performance by Natia’s father (as always, drunk) with an unidentified partner.
A true gem in terms of camera, visual, and sound, In Bloom has nonetheless captured awards primarily for the superb acting by Babluani and Bokeria, and for the compelling, dramatic story being told. The setting, sound, mise-en-scène, and background noise evoke Tbilisi in 1992, but the story’s appeal is universal and its young actresses’ struggles heart-wrenching.
In Bloom was one of a very small number of feature films supported in 2013 by the Georgian National Film Center, established in 2001 as a legal entity of public law under the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia. As with all candidates for national funding, Ekvtimishvili could request only 75 per cent of production costs from the National Film Center that dedicated 1 million of its annual budget of 1.8 million euro to film production in 2013. Further support for the film came from Simon Gross, co-producer, as well as from German and French TV channels ARTE and ZDF and the French Arizona Film.
Despite its small budget, the Georgian National Film Center has many reasons to be proud of its recent projects. In her review for Variety, Leslie Felperin credits In Bloom with “further enhancing Georgia’s reputation as the latest cinematic hotspot for emerging talent” (Felperin 2013). She might have added, “emerging female talent.” Three of the four most awarded feature films supported by the Georgian National Film Center in 2012-2013 were directed by women: Keep Smiling (2012) by Rusudan Chkonia, In Bloom (2013) by Nana Ekvtimishvili, and The Machine that Makes Everything Disappear (2012) by Tinatin Gurchiani. All are Georgian-European co-productions: Georgian-French-Luxembourg, Georgian-German-French, and Georgian-German respectively.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the three “most awarded films” by Georgian women directors from 2012-2013 focus primarily on the lives and fates of women. The picture is not always pretty. But female protagonists in these films are not merely helpless victims of a violent, but crumbling patriarchal society. Many fight back—not only for their own survival and that of their children, but also, and perhaps ironically, for the survival of their national culture. Hats off to these young directors, and to the female administrative directors of the Georgian National Film Center at the helm, Tamara Tatishvili and now Nana Janelidze (screenplay Repentance, director, Lullaby, Family, Knights of Georgian Chant, and a recent documentary on Kakhi Kavsadze, Will there be a Theatre Up There?).
Julie A. Christensen
George Mason University
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D’Ambroso, Sophie. “Synopsis: In Bloom.” Montreal Festival du nouveau cinema 11 October 2013.
Felperin, Leslie. “In Bloom.” Variety 10 February 2013.
In Bloom Georgia-Germany-France 2013
Color, 102 minutes
Directors: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Gross
Screenplay: Nana Ekvtimishvili
Cinematography: Oleg Mutu
Production Design: Konstantine Japaridze
Sound Design: Paata Godziashvili
Cast: Lika Babluani, Marian Bokeria, Zurab Gogaladze, Data Zaqareishvili, Giorgi Aladashvili, Gia Shonia, Ana Nijaradze, Maiko Nunua. Tamar Bukhnikashvili, Temiko Chichinadze, Berta Khaphava, Endi Dzidzava, Zaza Salia
Producers: Simon Gross, Mark Waechter, Guillaume de Seille
Executive Producers: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Christian Cloos, Doris Hepp
Production companies: Indiz Film, Polare Film, Arizona Film, ZDF production
International sales: Artscope, Paris
Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Gross: In Bloom
reviewed by Julie A. Christensen © 2014