In Bloom (2013 Georgian film)

In Bloom is a 2013 film directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross. Set in Tbilisi in 1992, the movie depicts the lives of two teenage girls, Eka and Natia, as they deal with typical teen problems: boys, bullies, teachers, domestic violence, food shortages, armed gangs in the streets, and abduction and forced marriage.

In Bloom was the Georgian submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2014 Academy Awards.

1992 was the year with Abkhazian War started, and while this isn’t a war movie, the topic does arise frequently. Many reviews of In Bloom contain historical errors concerning the war(s).This is understandable, since it was an extremely chaotic and unstable time, but let’s take a second to get the setting straight anyway.

First, the Abkhazian War is not the same as the Georgian Civil War,though there is some overlap. The Abkhazian War was (is?) between Georgians and Abkhazians (with their various allies), while the Georgian Civil War, as the name suggests, was among Georgians. The first part of the Civil War took place in Tbilisi in December 1991, when various militias joined forces to depose the democratically-elected president Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Fighting in Abkhazia didn’t start until August 1992. Because the war seems to be going on and the girls are in school and it’s warm outside, I think In Bloom is set in September 1992 after the first part of Civil War transpired.

Thus it makes sense when this reviewer says

Looking at the public housing and the school where much of the movie takes place, you might assume an armed conflict had raged in the heart of the city some years earlier, and the government coffers had always been too depleted to do much renovating. In fact there′s a war going on now, off screen, just over the border with the separatists in Abkhazia. (For Georgia the conflict is a civil war, for Abkhazia, a war of independence, backed by Russia.)

It’s true! An armed conflict had raged in Tbilisi! Not years earlier, but a mere eight or nine months earlier! (See Speaking Stones for a remarkable collection of then-and-now photographs of Tbilisi’s Freedom Square and Rustaveli Avenue from the war, as well as this contemporary American news report.)

Okay, enough with the history, and on to the movie itself. Spoilers ahead.

in bloom movie poster

[SPOILERS]

Here’s the plot: Natia has two suitors, Kote and Lado. She seems to prefer Lado, but he has to leave for a while to go see his uncle in Moscow. Before he leaves, he gives Natia a small gun and a single bullet. [Note: At this point in most In Bloom reviews, the reviewer tries and fails to be clever by mentioning Chekhov’s gun.]  Natia then gives the gun to Eka, who uses it to deal with some street boys who have been harassing her. Meanwhile, Kote asks Natia to marry him.

A few days later, while the girls are standing in a breadline, Kote and his friends drive up and abduct her. We are told that she is taken to the countryside, where she is presumably raped. Soon after, the two are married, and Eka gives the gun back to Natia. Lado returns, and resumes courting Natia. Kote sees this and gets angry, and then he and his friends track down and kill Lado. Upon hearing the news, Natia rushes to get the gun and take revenge, but Eka talks her out of it. Eka then takes the gun to a pond and tosses it in.

Eka et Natia

[SPOILERS continued]

Clearly the gun is a major focus of the story. From reading the plot synopsis, you might even guess that the back-and-forth movement of the gun creates suspense. That’s what one reviewer said:

When a gun lands in the hands of a defiant 14-year-old, a bleak drama suddenly turns into a stomach-churning suspense film. Every moment seems like it could lead Natia to pull the trigger…The deadly weapon is usually out of sight, but it’s never far from mind during “In Bloom.” The object charges even the most banal moments…

This a comical exaggeration. Maybe I was in the wrong state of mind when I watched it, but I just didn’t buy the idea that characters who were so quick to wrap the gun up in a handtowel and stash it under a sink would actually shoot someone. (Almost every time the gun is seen it’s in a bathroom, and I think we see it in four different bathrooms throughout the movie).

But I don’t think the film is meant to be all that suspenseful. That same reviewer, contradicting that tripe about “stomach-churning suspense”, points out how reserved the film is:

There is an obliqueness to “In Bloom.” Writer Nana Ekvtimishvili…doesn’t spell things out, and the complete story never comes into focus.

I agree with this entirely. In Bloom is coy when it comes to details and backstory, and often all we know about something comes from innuendo and hearsay. Examples:

  • Eka’s father, we eventually learn, is in prison. Referring to the street boy who has been bullying her, she asks her mother at one point “Is it true that my father killed Kopla’s father?” Her mother neither confirms this nor denies it, only asking back “Where did you hear that?” We never get the details.
  • When a sad-looking girl arrives late to Eka and Natia’s class, the teacher demands to know where she’s been. “Well,” she says, “my father returned from Sukhumi yesterday, and he left to go back this morning. I had to see him off. That’s where I was.” The teacher turns to the class and muses “I don’t know what it is with this war. All the drunks and thieves want to go to Abkhazia!” Was the girl’s father a drunk and/or a thief? We never get the details.
  • Kote’s father tells his mother that the son of someone they knew went off to fight in Abkhazia. ” I know,” she says, “I don’t want to talk about it.” He tries to pursue the topic, but she continues to tell him that she doesn’t want to talk about it. We never get the goddamn details.

There are other cases where we see the aftermath of something, but we don’t see the lead-up. Two key examples:

  • In one scene, Natia gets kidnapped. The very next scene is her wedding. We don’t see anything of what happened to her, and we only learn a little bit from what she tells the other girls at the wedding.
  • The scene immediately after Lado’s stabbing is Natia furiously trying to get to her gun. We don’t see any part of her finding out the news.

[END OF SPOILERS]

Discussion Questions

  1. It’s obvious that the filmmakers deliberately chose to withhold certain seemingly-important information from the viewer. What themes or perspectives does this narrative technique serve to emphasize?
  2. The reviewer who mentioned the film’s “obliqueness” went on to say “That sense [of obliqueness] also is reflected in the way the movie is shot. In a scene where Eka is dancing during a wedding reception, we never see her feet, even as the other guests are hollering in appreciation. The viewer becomes keenly aware that she is only getting part of the story.” What are some other examples of “oblique” cinematography in the film?

გრძელი ნათელი დღეები

Reading reviews of In Bloom, you frequently come across passages like this commenting on meaning of the title:

The title of In Bloom refers both to the movie’s 14-year-old protagonists, Eka and Natia, and to the burgeoning Georgian nation where the film, set a year after that country’s independence, is set. The double meaning becomes clear early on. What takes longer to recognize is the title’s bitter irony.

This should actually read “the English title”, since the Georgian title is different. The original title is გრდზელი ნათელი დღეები Grdzeli Nateli Dgheebi, meaning Long Bright Days. I haven’t seen any explanation as to why the title was changed. The French title is dull: Eka et Natia, Chronique d’une jeunesse géorgienne. In German (the native tongue of co-director Simon Groß), the title is unchanged: Die langen hellen Tage. I don’t know of the movie being officially released in other languages (in particular, I don’t know if it’s been released in Russian).

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the title of the film was changed for the English and French releases? Why wasn’t it changed for the German release?
  2. What is the meaning of “long bright days”?
  3. The French release is subtitled Chronique d’une jeunesse géorgienne, with the singular article une. To whom does this refer?
  4. Which title do you prefer?

die langen hellen tage

The performances by Lika Babluani (Eka) and Mariam Bokeria (Natia) are excellent. Other reviewers have said more interesting things about their acting than I could, so I’ll just concur with them:

The two lead performances — Lika Babluani as Eka and Mariam Bokeria as Natia — are direct and unaffected, but also enigmatic in the way that nonprofessional screen acting can be in the hands of a sensitive director. The viewer has to guess at emotions that the characters themselves may not quite understand.

And

In a film where the two chaotic worlds of feminine youth and war collide, Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria bring a very moving stoicism to their characters. Eka and Natia are played with inventive restraint making their attempts at defying the nihilism of their situation all the more potent.

 

in bloom cast

Left to right: Gross, Ekvtimishvili, Babluani, Bokeria

Ultimately, however, In Bloom left me a little underwhelmed. Each separate part of the film was subtle and intriguing, but collectively, too much subtlety adds up to boredom. The trouble is that every aspect of the film was designed as a support element, and there wasn’t anything to support.

  • You want to have a slow story which ends with the main characters not really doing anything? Fine, but the setting had better be vivid.
  • You want to gesture and hint at the setting without making things too explicit? Fine, but the story had better be engaging.
  • You want the leads actresses to give natural, restrained performances? Fine, but something exciting had better be happening around them.

It’s like going to a potluck and finding out that everyone brought a salad because they thought someone else was going to bring a main course. Where is the main course?

Most reviews of the movie are positive, but some share my feeling. This critic says

Yet while “In Bloom” is, to some degree, an act of memory, there’s a flatness about it. The film accurately reflects the girls’ numbness, but it is devoid of sustaining emotional impact. Eka and Natia’s full pain is oddly remote.

Another says

The story jumps here and there, and while we understand what is happening – or has happened – the lack of visual evidence for it tends to be unsatisfying…[T]here are also pauses and gaps in the action, and the film ends without having said enough to satisfy us and fully warrant 100 minutes of our time.

While I don’t think I’ll go back to watch In Bloom again any time soon, it was clear that there was a lot of talent involved in making it. If she can figure out how to add a little more force to her storytelling, I would be happy to see Ekvitimishvili’s next film.

Discussion Questions

  1. How could In Bloom have been changed to make it more engaging? Be specific.
  2. Compare and contrast In Bloom‘s treatment of the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict with those of Tangerines and Corn Island.

Note: Confusingly, there is another 2013 movie called In Bloom. Instead of being about life in 1992 Tbilisi, it’s about life in a 2013 Chicago gayborhood. Here’s the plot according to IMDB:

Summertime hits Chicago, igniting celebrations, events, and new friendships that make memories for every young adult. For a young Boystown couple, however, these memories seem best forgotten. Kurt and Paul, two young Boystown locals, have been together for two years. Life is vibrant, tranquil and simple as Kurt makes a living dealing pot and Paul is employed at the local grocery store. At a party one night, Kurt and Paul’s relationship begins to unknowingly unravel when Kurt meets Kevin, a dashing and exciting young man. Kurt initially resists Kevin’s advances, but soon gives in as he starts dealing Kevin weed. Kurt is overrun with temptation and eventually becomes self-destructive as his lustful urges get the better of him. In a fit of impulse, Kurt breaks up with Paul, sending Paul into a downward cycle of emptiness and pain. Kurt drowns himself in a lifestyle of partying, drugs and promiscuous sex, hoping to find the “spark” he first felt when he fell in love with Paul, but he never finds it. Kurt spirals into his lowest point when he is mugged, with no one to turn to. Alone and vulnerable, Kurt returns to Paul, who has already “moved on.” Direction-less and alone, Kurt proceeds to try and restore the relationship he once had, only to fail.

I don’t know which film was named In Bloom first. It’s an annoying coincidence.

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