Based on her own experiences growing up in Georgia, Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross’ In Bloom (2013) uses adolescence as the conduit in which to explore the confused identity of a country in transition. Perceptive and deftly handled, In Bloom transcends the usual coming of age clichés to depict a captivating portrait of urban dissonance and burgeoning fractions of nationalism against the heartening tale of two teenage girls growing up in post-Soviet Union Georgia. Fourteen-year-old Eka (Lika Babluani) lives with her mother and sister in a large, well-appointed flat in Tbilisi. Her father is in prison for murder, but Eka still clings to the old Soviet cigarettes and passport he’s left behind.
It’s the early nineties, and despite the country’s new independence, discord in the neighbouring Black Sea state of Abkhazia means the threat of violence looms in the background. Civil war is never mentioned, yet anxious queues for bread and news reports overheard on the television and radio means the threat is a ubiquitous presence that permeates Eka’s life. Eka’s best friend Natia (Mariam Bokeria) comes from a less ideal background, living in a dilapidated soviet housing block with her quarrelsome family. Even though Georgia has gained independence, women still live under the oppressive control of men, with the girl’s only possible route of escape from their fractured families being to marry and begin their own disenchanted domestic lives. Thus, the cycle begins over.
Coming of age tales have become a staple of European art-house cinema, often culminating in well-meaning, if passée anthropological exploration of cultures in a fluctuating state of identity. While In Bloom covers familiar themes of friendship, identity and adolescent love, there’s always the sense that festering behind the walls of these faded Soviet-era apartments there’s a parallel world of ingrained subjugation and social unrest. Characters constantly emerge from the darkness of their poorly lit flats before receding back into the shadows, seeming lost in a spectral realm, caught between the Soviet past and their uncharted future. However, these scenes of cultural captivity are juxtaposed with the outside world, where images of Spring time blossom mean you can almost feel the winds of change approaching. Ekvtimishvili and Gross keep the wider conflict off-screen, at the same time also limiting the film’s more pressing internal threat. Men drift in and out of the margins, only really coming to the forefront as Natia’s two potential suitors.
One of the boys is a local tough called Kote (Zurab Gogaladze), who attempts to woo Natia with flowers, whilst the other, Lado (Data Zakareishvili) – the more romantic of the two – gives her a gun. These uncharacteristic gifts represent the discrepancy between the illusion of freedom and the perceived necessity of violence to achieving peace, but despite its constant reappearance the gun’s benign existence within the film is itself a symbol of hope. Though its sense of hopeless resignation and cold, austere aesthetics might deter some, the exuberance of youth and the spirit of community adds a welcome lightness of touch. Ultimately, helping to soften the film’s coarse edges and prevent the narrative from becoming too bogged down in despair. A poetic and perceptive examination of youth, female oppression and cultural identity In Bloom extols Georgia’s growing pains with great profundity, culminating in a film composed of multiple layers, each of them as richly drawn as the last.