The title, In Bloom, refers to two fourteen-year-old girls struggling to forge their own identities in Tbilisi, Georgia as the newly independent country’s 1992 civil war is mirrored by the girls’ turbulent family lives. Inspired by co-Director Nana Ekvtimishvili’s personal memories, the film is nothing if not authentic in its fascinating detail of an alien culture. It is the more harrowing events, particularly toward the end of the film, that feel constructed and hollow as our emotions are never fully engaged.
Independent, introspective and serious, Eka (Lika Babluani) is best friends with tall and pretty Natia (Mariam Bokeria) who takes music lessons and dreams of becoming a pianist. The two girls struggle with poverty, fighting for loaves of bread in breadlines; with absent fathers (Natia’s is an alcoholic, while Eka’s is a political prisoner); and with their sexuality in a male dominated society.
Eka is bullied by school boys and learns the power of a weapon when Natia passes on a gun that she had been given to protect herself. Natia is close to a kind, intelligent and creative boy, Lado (Data Zakareishvili), but is coerced into marrying a local thug, Kote (Zurab Gogaladze) after he drags her off by force and rapes her.
Natia might have thought that living in Zote’s quiet home with his decent and sober parents would be preferable to her chaotic family life, but already, during the festive marriage party, she regrets her decision.
She is kept a prisoner by the jealous Zote who does not want her to continue with her education. When Zote sees Natia listening to music with Lado, he goes after him with a gang. Eka, who felt betrayed by Natia’s capitulation, comes to her friend’s rescue at the tragic denouement.
Ekvtimishvili and co-Director Simon Gross skilfully and seamlessly reflect the turmoil going on outside of the everyday lives of the two protagonists with the chaos and dashed hopes of their formative years. Like Georgia, the girls are striving for their own independence, but violence, ignorance and territorial disputes frustrate their hopes.
Shortly after Georgia’s first election as an independent state in 1991, its president was deposed by a paramilitary group and the National Guard in a bloody coup d’état. A four-year civil war broke out which indirectly affected the lives of girls like the film’s protagonists – and, like the Ukraine, Georgia’s independence is still threatened by Russian occupation.
When Eka symbolically throws Natia’s gun into the pond she is not only renouncing the violence that has set the agenda for her disillusioned elders and poisoned the likes of Zote, but is also protesting the discord and divisions in her country at large.
While the acting from the adults and the two girls is commendable (the boys fare less well), there is something oddly distanced in the direction which results in our emotions never catching up with the action.
Where the film cannot be faulted, however, is in showing us the plight of teenagers in a country at the crossroads of Asia and the West that is torn between the forces of a backward and destructive tradition and the lure of freedom and personal fulfilment.
Joyce Glasser – MT film reviewer