In Bloom

IN BLOOM. Starring: Lika Babluani, Mariam Bokeria, Zurab Gogaladze, and Data Zakareishvili. Directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross. Rated M (Mature themes, coarse language and violence). 87 min.

This is a subtitled Georgian drama film that was selected as the Georgian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards. It takes place in the middle of the Georgian civil war, one year after the country's independence. The title of the movie has a double meaning. The film depicts the personal growth of two young Georgian teenagers, but also reflects the passage of Georgia through its civil war. The story takes place in 1992 in Tbilisi, the capital of the newly independent Georgia. The film should not be confused with the explicitly gay drama of the same name that was released in the same year.

Georgia is engaged in war. The threat of violence and destruction is everywhere, but the film does not focus on battle scenes. Rather, it examines society's ills for their effects on two young women, Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria), who are 14 years of age and inseparable friends. The girls find more comfort in their friendship than what they do at home. They are separated by social class, and are both rebellious.

The agony of a country in crisis is reflected in the coming-of-age story of the two girls. They grow up in a time of war, but the viewer is spared being exposed directly to its atrocities. One is never allowed to forget, however, that war is an integral part of the background of the film. Only soldiers are allowed to jump the food queue, for example, and media messages are sent into living-rooms to tell people what is going on.

Eka's and Nata's lives are deeply affected by the horrors of their culture. The film raises significant questions about cultural context and the experience of youth. It examines whether it is possible to develop an identity - especially, a female one - in a society that is beset with internal struggle, unrest, and the constant threat of male aggression. In partying mood, the male elders say, "Bless all women", but actions don't echo their words.

For Eka and Natia, aggression permeates their psychological and physical world. Eka's father is doing time for violent crimes, and we are told very early in the film that Georgian males "are warriors by their very nature". A gentle boy, Lado (Data Zakareishvili), declares his love for Natia and gives her a gun as a birthday present. His gift is a comment on the nature of his romantic attachment, but also on the state of the country. Natia is also liked by a tough boy, Kote (Zurab Gogaladze), who ironically gives her flowers, but he later abducts her and claims her by force.

The girls are used to queuing together in squabbling lines that deliver bread; they are harassed constantly by males; and they share the same female tyrannical teacher at school. At home, families erupt easily. Natia's father is a raging alcoholic who abuses her mother, and Natia is forced by the rules of her culture to marry a man she doesn't love. The gun that Natia received from Lado becomes a symbol of resistance for both Eka and Natia. The two girls hand it back and forth, and it is only a matter of time before we think that one of them will use it. The constant threat of that happening provides the film with solid suspense.

The grimness of the environment that Eka and Natia are in, accrues in dramatic effect as the movie develops. The film establishes a gradual acceptance by the girls of what is occurring. They know they will be unhappy, and that their environment is never likely to change, and their behaviour becomes locked into the world around them.

The acting performances by Babluani and Bokeria are wonderful, and the direction and quality of cinematography reinforce the dramatic power of the movie. Social conflict constantly simmers beneath the story-line, as characters are overtaken by their incapacity to alter what is happening. But that doesn't prevent Eka dancing at Natia's wedding in a magnificent gesture of defiance.

This is an intelligent and powerful film that has much to say at a political and personal level. It is a compelling depiction of a fascinating period in a country's turbulent history, and a deeply affecting movie about two young women struggling to exist in a world that is reluctant to change.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Palace Films

September 25th 2014.

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