In Bloom (Grzeli nateli dgeebi)

UK Release Date 2nd May 2014
Director Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß
Starring Lika Babluani
Runtime 102 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 27th April 2014

It’s safe to say I an count the number of Georgian films I’ve seen on the fingers of… well, of one finger. It’s not a region we get exposed to much over here and given this recent gem, I can only bemoan that fact.

In Bloom took the opening night premiere slot at this year’s Birds Eye View Film Festival in London and tells the story of two teenage girls growing up during the early nineties, when newly independent Georgia was in the early throes of war with Abkhazia. Emerging from the Soviet Union, life still resembled the Communist drudgery we’re used to seeing, queues for bread, horrific concrete estates and as war looms, curfews are announced and national identity is a wide concern.

All of this sits firmly in the background for school friends Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria) as they smoke, play truant, incite class (of the school kind) rebellion and deal with boys and bullies. Natia is the more outgoing of the two friends and is courted by two, very different, lads. Local wannabe gangster Kote and shining romantic Lado both vie for her attention but when Lado goes away to work in Moscow, Kote takes the initiative and literally kidnaps Natia away for marriage. Eka is more introspective, spending her time wistfully sifting through her mother’s collection of letters and ephemera from her currently jailed father. The girls have starkly contrasting home lives that seem to inform their personalities. Eka’s is quiet and seemingly reasonably well off despite her father’s absence, Natia’s is hectic and noisy, her grandmother threatening to kill various people and her father serially drinking and abusing her mother.

In Bloom is shot in an almost brutal light, muted greys and blues emphasise the austere lives the characters lead, though an extended wedding scene towards the end of the movie shows that this isn’t always the case. The Tiblisi presented is one of contrasts. The bleak grey buildings contrast with the almost permanent spring-like weather and the external views of the brutalist housing estates contrast with the homely life that people have made for themselves inside the buildings.

The movie is riven with universal themes and the trials the young girls go through could be applied to teenagers in almost any part of the world, though it’s probably not many that will receive a handgun as a romantic gift from a suitor. The girls are great in the lead roles. Bokeria gets probably the more openly emotive role as her Natia deals with flying wine jugs at home and being kidnapped  by her suitor and presumably if not forced into marriage then pretty heavily coerced. Babluani’s Eka is more introverted and steely in her determination. She gets a couple of standout scenes, one screaming abuse at the shuffling bread queue who stand by as her best friend is forced into Kote’s car and driven off at speed and more memorably at Natia’s wedding - springing into action on the dance floor as everybody crowds around and cheers. The latter is a genuinely wonderful scene - as all the doubts over identity and the future are pushed firmly to the background, everybody lives in that moment. The movie is grown up enough to realise that this can’t be the end of it though and it’s later revealed that Natia feels trapped in the marriage partly due to the amount of money Kote’s family spent on the ceremony.

There is much to admire in this wonderfully constructed movie. It is well played by all and the directors never once opt for flashy over realistic. The only slightly jarring element I found was in Lado. Dressed in blue denim and a painfully white shirt, he looked like he had been dropped in from a completely different movie, specifically to advance one plot point. But that’s really picking for the sake of it. In Bloom is a powerful snapshot of two wonderful characters doing what teenage girls do. As they scatter around Eka’s flat with their friends, frantically wafting away the cigarette smoke and setting up as if they’ve been doing homework the whole time so the approaching parent doesn’t suspect anything, you are taken back to any number of times that you’ve done that exact same thing. It may not have been in a post-communist state on the brink of war but what’s global politics to a fourteen year old? There are more important wars to be fought and if that means scaring off a bully with that handgun, bring it on.

Check out the trailer here.

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