Title: In Bloom
Director: Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Gross
(IFI and selected cinemas)
A film set in Tbilisi during the aftermath of the Soviet collapse was never going to be a barrel laughs, what with a brief civil war and prolonged instability rocking that city in the early nineties. Georgian writer Nana Ekvtimishvili was a teenager at the time has made In Bloom with German husband Simon Gross as a way of exploring the strife she encountered in those troubled days.
Food rationing, guerrilla bullying and everyday firearm possession are all draped around the edges as the story is told of two 14-year-old girls whose friendship makes life both tolerable and paradoxically complicated. Eka (a near expressionless Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria) both come from households disrupted to greater or lesser degrees by the political events beyond the city, as if the trials of teenagerdom were not already enough.
In between the downward expressions, pretty young girls sing songs about dreams being crushed, grannies wail forlornly and suitors won’t take no for an answer. But the ways of this society are really hammered home to the girls when they come into the possession of a handgun. Meanwhile, both struggle to resist the forces of Georgian social convention which their beleaguered elders thrust upon them.
Using a “mise en scene” approach and shooting everything in a bleached pallor, Gross’s cinematography is all about realism and humanity, with the physical surroundings only there to be considered if you seek them out. The centrifugal force is supplied by two stunning lead turns by Babluani and Bokeria, the former in particular conveying the complex cultural mores of the gender dynamic in one stunning wedding scene. Superb, if morose, fare.