A way of life

A way of life

‘In Bloom’ takes a penetrating look at life in post-Soviet Georgia

By Jana J. Monji 02/06/2014

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In Pasadena, one is more likely to wait in line to see a blockbuster movie than to buy something as basic to daily life as bread, but that’s what young girls, boys, men and women were forced to do in the Georgian capital of Tbilsi in 1992, as depicted in the 2013 Georgian film, “In Bloom.”

Georgia’s Academy Award entry for the Best Foreign Language Film didn’t make the final cut, but it is definitely worth seeing when it opens Friday at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.

Directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß, and written by Nana Ekvtimishvili, the film follows two 14-year-old girls, Eka (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lika_Babluani&action=edit&redlink=1" Lika Babluani) and Natia (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mariam_Bokeria&action=edit&redlink=1" Mariam Bokeria), who have family and boy troubles. There is war being waged far away from this city, but you can almost ignore it.

When the movie begins, Eka is riding on a bus. A voice from a radio states, “There have always been people in Georgia who are warriors by their very nature. ... I think every Georgian in Georgia should be armed, but that doesn’t mean they should mug people.”

Later, Eka meets up with Natia near a crowded outdoor stairway. A mass of struggling people push forward to a small window to receive two loaves of bread. Natia gets home to hear her mother (Tamar Bukhnikashvili) complain that she didn’t get back fast enough.
Walking alone, Eka meets two boys who rudely confront her and she drops a loaf to the ground. But what seems at first to be normal loutish behavior of adolescent and teenage boys takes on a different meaning later in the story.

Shot in soft, washed-out colors, “In Bloom” depicts life as dreary, with violence percolating in every facet of the girls’ lives. Eka’s father is in prison. Natia’s parents (Temiko Chichinadze as the father) fight loudly at meal time. Natia and her brother (Sandro Shanshiashvili) are rude to their grandmother (Berta Khapava) and each other. This could be any dysfunctional family, or so we think.

Natia has long wavy hair. Eka’s is straight and shoulder length, sometimes pulled back into an awkward ponytail. Natia is the more outspoken and at times can be flirtatious. When a young man, Lado (Data Zakareishvili), shows polite interest, he offers Natia a gun as a gift, a symbol of his respect.

The gun is meant to protect Natia from bride stealing. Natia and Eka share the gun, but Natia ends up becoming a kidnapped bride — taken by a boy (Zurab Gogaladze) she had previously rebuffed. He and his friends pull her from the breadline and force her into a car. No one, except Eka, attempts to help her.

According to a 2006 article in the Institute of War & Peace Reporting Web site, bride stealing continues and has experienced a revival in post-Soviet Georgia. Hundreds of women are kidnapped, although some of the "abductions" are mutually arranged to avoid parental interference. Recent legislation has made it a more serious crime, but the tradition is supported by the stigma against a woman's loss of virginity. Even if a girl escapes or returns, that dishonor would always shadow her and make her a less attractive catch for marriage.

Eka dances at Natia’s wedding, but without any real joy. And we see a resigned Natia stand up to her new husband. Yet, you think back to that moment when Eka was accosted by two boys or to when Natia’s parents argued and Natia comforted her brother. You wonder if Eka will suffer a similar fate — being kidnapped, perhaps raped. You wonder if the anger between Natia’s parents started with such an abduction. You wonder if the brother will eventually abduct a bride and if she will be willing or not.

Directors Ekvtimishvili and Groß don’t provide us with close-up shots of the characters. We aren’t asked to study faces to discern emotion. The two lead actors,  http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lika_Babluani&action=edit&redlink=1" Lika Babluani and "http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mariam_Bokeria&action=edit&redlink=1" Mariam Bokeria, seem to be observing life, their faces almost passive, making it seem as if their characters have spent a lifetime hiding their softer sides from the brutal assaults of their families and teachers and the boys and men they pass on the streets.

Based on personal memories of Ekvtimishvili, “In Bloom” offers no answers but asks: Should all Georgians, particularly the women, be armed and what comes from a violent, coercive way of life? 

(In Georgian with English subtitles) 

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