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Film Review: 'In Bloom'

★★★★☆
The opening film of this year's Bird's Eye View Festival, Georgian director Nana Ekvtimishvili combines with German counterpart Simon Groß for In Bloom (2013), a brilliant coming-of-ager set in the suburbs of Tblisi, circa 1992. Featuring two outstanding lead performances from bright young talents Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria, Ekvtimishvili and Groß immerse their audience in the detritus of a country in tatters, whilst at the same time delicately nurturing two intertwining female maturation tales - with all that entails. Melancholic without ever overstepping into out and out miserablism, In Bloom finds sanctuary in the friendship between two affable teenage girls as battle lines are drawn around them.

As catastrophic civil war rages in the province of Abkhazia, Tblisi, two spirited 14-year-olds, Eka (Babluani) and Natia (Bokeria), find their childhood forcefully pushed towards a premature end. Natia's abusive alcoholic father constantly terrorises herself, her besieged mother and her younger brother, whilst Eka rebels against her mother and chain-smoking older sister. These two inseparable friends try to find peace outside their family, their days filled with anxiety about what the future can possibly hold for them when the present is so full of the hardships and woes that come with life on the (quite literal) breadline. When Natia is 'willingly' married to a knuckleheaded local ne'er do well far in advance of her years, Eka must wait patiently in the wings for the opportunity to rescue her companion from her fate.

One of only a handful of films to have approached this difficult era in modern Georgian history, Ekvtimishvili and Groß deserve great commendation for sculpting a film of such pathos and warmth out of a sociopolitical climate so outwardly bleak. Coming of age narratives are now ten a penny, but few have managed to capture the painful transition between girlhood and womanhood quite as well as is done here. Eka and Natia are two sides of the same coin: one a shrinking violet, content to stoically absorb life's slings and arrows; the other a headstrong tigress unafraid to hold her own against switchblade-wielding boys her own age. Their home lives are fraught, but whereas Natia can think of nothing better than ridding herself of her drunken father, Eka longs to reconnect with her estranged dad - in prison for murdering a local man.

There's humour too, just for the record. When Eka's sister invites a group of friends round for what she hopes to be an afternoon of carefree drinking, smoking and gossipping, her plans are suddenly scuppered by the early return of her mother. Swooshing smoke clouds out of the window and quickly hiding any contraband, Eka's mother enters to an idyllic scene of concentrated revision, the girls doing their best not to give the game away with anxious, guilt-ridden glances at one another. It's this deft balance between the light and the dark which ultimately makes In Bloom so successful. The downtrodden social realism of Eastern Europe's male auteurs - Loznitsa, Mungiu and Puiu, to name but three - has been adapted by Ekvtimishvili and Groß for a feminine take on an adolescence spent in the crumbling remnants of the USSR.

Daniel Green

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