DIR: Simon Groß, Nana Ekvtimishvili • WRI: Nana Ekvtimishvili • PRO: Simon Groß, Marc Wächter • DOP: Oleg Mutu • ED: Stefan Stabenov • DES: Kote Japaridze • CAST: Lika Babluani, Mariam Bokeria
Georgian cinema has a history as rich as any in Western Europe. As the Soviet Bloc still stood, Georgia’s films were considered amongst the most creative available to those behind the Iron Curtain. Before the collapse of the Bloc, directors such as Otar Iosseliani and Sergei Parajanov held huge influence over their peers and successors. The Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky said of Parajanov’s films: “They have influenced cinema first in Ukraine, second in this country as a whole, and third in the world at large.” Since the nation’s declaration of independence in the early 1990s, however, Georgia’s film industry had lost its way a little. Now, with films like In Bloom, it’s showing signs of vitality again.
It’s 1992. Georgia has declared independence. We follow two 14-year olds, Eka and Natia, as they navigate inter-generational dynamics in family life and on the streets. Motifs of past versus future run throughout the film; from the old Soviet apartment buildings lighting up with blooming red roses, to the young girls’ interrogation and rejection of traditional family values. It’s exhilarating to watch the girls test their boundaries, and we see one liberty extended after the next until finally they impudently anger one of the locals and get a slap in the face. The obvious parallel here is the anxiety that envelopes a newly independent state that doesn’t yet know its own boundaries. It’s reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai’s 2046, which interrogated anxiety over Hong Kong’s handover to mainland China; or of any of the variety of European cinema movements which deal with a break from the past. That old chestnut.
Crisp cinematography by Oleg Mutu keeps the film two beats removed from its bleak environment. This technique has become more common in recent years, and helps to introduce previously overlooked national film industries to Western audiences. Visually the film creates a hyperreality reminiscent of Children of Men; the viewer is right alongside the characters but remains buffered from some of the film’s harsher moments. In Bloom resists traditional miserablism by attaining a sort of hyperfocus on its subjects. Rather than the chaotic state around them, the film creates a sense of hope by focusing thematically and visually on the blooming idealism of the two protagonists. At a party, we watch a traditional dance performed with grim efficiency and all around the room the onlookers shout encouragement. We don’t hear the encouragement, bar a few muffled shouts. We hear music playing faster and louder, we watch the girl dance the way she’s been taught to dance; for a mesmerising few minutes our experience of Georgia is focused on this minute act of reluctant tradition.
And then tradition is subverted. “Why are you poking around my things?” Eka’s mother asks, upon catching her daughter in her bedroom. A panicked Eka replies “I was looking for an address. I wanted to send a letter to dad.” Eka is learning not only to function independently in a dysfunctional family, but how to exploit tradition for her own gain. “She should have told her husband she wasn’t a virgin,” says Eka to two older girls on hearing of a divorce scandal, “He’s right to leave her.” They laugh, “What century are you in?” Similarly, as the two girls begin to understand their sexual power over the boys in their school, they come up against gradations of the same in older girls and adults. Just as they learn to maneouvre within the bread queues, they learn to maneauvre within gender politics. When Eka catches the two older girls smoking cigarettes, we know that the rose that symbolises her adolescence will soon turn to ash; and that she has but a narrow window of opportunity to exert influence on her world.
The film is co-produced by Germany’s Indiz Films, Georgia’s Polare Film and France’s Arizona Productions, and the two directors (Simon Groß and Nana Ekvtimishvili) studied film in Germany. It looks like co-productions will be the future in European cinema, as national borders disintegrate and funding barriers go up. In response to the breakdown in industry infrastructure since the declaration of independence, Georgia can capitalise on its international relations and arthouse prestige to regain its potential as one of the great world cinemas.
12A (See IFCO for details)
In Bloom is released on 2nd May 2014