In Bloom (Grzeli Nateli Dgeebi): Berlin Review

In Bloom Grzeli nateli dgeebi - H 2013

In Bloom Grzeli nateli dgeebi - H 2013

First-time writer-director revisits her bittersweet Tblisi childhood.

Nana Ekvtimishvili marks her filmmaking debut in an impressive coming-of-age feature about female friendship, fatal feuds and family friction in post-Soviet Georgia.

Fueling speculation that Georgia could become the next former Soviet republic to enjoy its own cinematic new wave, In Bloom is a superior rites-of-passage drama about friendship, revenge and dysfunctional families. Showing in the Berlinale Forum this week, this Franco-German-Georgian co-production marks the feature debut of screenwriter and co-director Nana Ekvtimishvili. It makes up for a fairly loose and conventional plot with superb performances, high technical polish and the finest big-screen depiction of bride-kidnapping since Borat.

Loosely based on Ekvtimishvili’s childhood memories of growing up in newly independent Georgia in the early 1990s, In Bloom has the texture of authentic experience. Universal enough in theme to connect with overseas markets, it deserves to find a discerning foreign audience. Further festival interest should be strong, while potential overseas distributors may well be lured by its fine cast, quality workmanship and critical buzz.

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Tiblisi, 1992. Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria) are 14-year-old best friends living in cramped family apartments in crumbling high-rise housing projects. Big problems loom in the background: the aftershocks of the Soviet Union collapsing, a war with breakaway Abkhazia and deadbeat fathers who are either abusive drunks or mysteriously absent criminals. But like all prepubescent schoolgirls, Eka and Natia are far more preoccupied with classroom gossip, dodging the attention of local bullies and the budding sexual power they exert over neighborhood boys.

Built around radiant performances from its two young leads, In Bloom is a beautifully observed slice-of-life drama subtly interwoven with thriller elements and a gently pro-feminist message about young girls defying ancient patriarchal traditions. At one point, Eka and Natia acquire an illegal handgun, wrong-footing viewers to expect an explosive showdown that never quite arrives. Instead, we get a surprise wedding, where Eka performs a sensational dance in a single long shot. But Nadia’s forced union with the bullying, boorish Kote (Zurab Gogaladze) soon proves stifling, and leads indirectly to an unexpected act of lethal violence.

There are manifold plot twists in Ekvtimishvili’s fictionalized memoir, but novelistic nuance seems more important here than straight narrative momentum. Even in their least dramatic scenes, Babluani and Bokeria share a natural chemistry and magnetic on-screen presence. The languid camera work of veteran Romanian New Wave cinematographer Oleg Mutu also merits a mention, painting Tbilisi in chilly blues and warm browns, like vintage tinted postcards. An eye-pleasing aesthetic for a classy and absorbing debut.

Venue: Berlinale press screening, February 9

Production companies: Indiz Film, Polare Film, Arizona Film, ZDF

Producers: Simon Gross, Mark Wachter, Guillaume de Seille

Cast: Lika Babluani, Mariam Bokeria, Zurab Gogaladze, Data Zakareishvili, Giorgi Aladashvili, Gia Shonia, Ana Nijaradze

Directors: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Gross

Screenwriter: Nana Ekvtimishvili

Editor: Stefan Stabenow

Sales Company: Artscope, Paris

Rating TBC, 102 minutes