Friday, 16 May 2014

REVIEW: In Bloom (2014)

In Bloom is a Georgian film directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß. It won Best Film at the 2013 Hong Kong International Film Festival and was Georgia’s entry for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film – which bizarrely allows only one submission per country.

Set in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, as the effects are still being felt of the collapse of the USSR and there is war in Abkhazia – a disputed region then considered part of Georgia until the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Two young friends Eka and Natia (Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria, both only 14 during the production) live in an area torn apart by criminality and economic stagnation. We see them first in vicious breadlines fighting with other people for loaves of bread. Their home life is difficult as well, with deeply unhappy parents on both sides. However, Eka and Natia do not allow their situation to keep them down and the film charts how they manage to survive in their surroundings.

The film offers a thoroughly bleak view of life in Georgia in 1992 – though the references to fighting in Abkhazia may remind viewers as much of 2008. It is a world is which violence has been almost entirely naturalised. Early on, one uncomfortable scene around in dinner table escalates very quickly. When Natia’s apparent boyfriend Lado (Zurab Gogaladze) gives her a gun in order to protect herself, she is barely surprised – in fact, it is almost a romantic moment, representing how much he cares for her. Later, Natia shows it to Eka and her friend does not flinch. Eka is also being bullied for no apparent reason by a local kid Kopla (Giorgi Aladashvili) – though a scene in which a sudden revelation offers a possible reason for Kopla’s bullying is one of the more unexpected and heartrending moments in a film that refuses to reveal details until they can be put to most effective use.

Though bleak and unsparing in its depiction of a society under extreme pressure, In Bloom is far from depressing. The film is a work of social realism, not unlike the work of Ken Loach, but with one refreshing difference, which may just make it unique. The film is full of violent and angry young men and Eka and Natia have fathers that are either absent or abusive. And though there can never be enough films that reveal the effects of poverty and economic collapse on the poorer regions of urban environments, they too often take an exclusively masculine view. In Bloom is about women and how they have to deal with poverty, patriarchal violence and oppression.

In Bloom
, then, is a film about defiance. Eka and Natia would seem to have a deeply unhappy existence – Tbilisi was wracked by violence and recession as well as a fiercely patriarchal society – but they never give up and they always fight back. But, the film is not so simplistic as to simply praise defiance – it offers a much more optimistic version of the same old story. Crucially, Eka and Natia are able to retain their independence from the men around them. In one great scene, Eka skilfully dances during an unpleasant marriage though the film is never clear whether she is defying the conventions of the wedding to show her distaste or simply dancing because she wants to. In the end, Eka and Natia may either succeed or fail – but they succeed or fail entirely on their own merits and flaws. A fairly traditional narrative plays out but thanks to its female focus and the filmmaker’s genuine feminist agenda, In Bloom feels fresh.

The film also features some remarkably good performances from its young cast. Ekvtimishvili and Groß direct in long takes, allowing these young men and women the opportunity to thoroughly convince. The performances are remarkably good when one considers both the age of most of the cast and their lack of experience in front of a camera. Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria, non-professionals both, in the lead roles are particularly good and demand and maintain one’s attention. Ekvtimishvili and Groß’s direction is equally noteworthy; their handheld camera lingering on certain images, discovering moments of beauty that may have simply gone unnoticed amid the breadlines and urban decay. In Bloom is, in some ways, a difficult film to pull off but Ekvtimishvili and Groß succeed with originality, ambition and integrity.

In Bloom is a work of social realism, a film that has something important to say about deprivation and violence, but it is also a surprising, rich and moving drama about two young women trying to be themselves in a cruel world. It is a film of empathy and understanding, but also one that is refreshingly female in its focus, if not genuinely feminist, and a significant contribution to world cinema.

See also:

A shorter review of In Bloom from The Upcoming website is available here.

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