VOD film review: In Bloom (Birds Eye View Film Festival)
Ivan Radford | On 02, May 2014
Directors: Simon Gross, Nana Ekvtimishvili
Cast: Lika Babluani, Mariam Bokeria
Watch In Bloom online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
Coming-of-age stories are nothing new. After all, growing up is a universal thing. In the UK last year, indie dramas ranging from The Selfish Giant to For Those in Peril charted the emotional journey from kidulthood to adulthood. Often contrasted with a larger, political development, it’s a format that regularly receives acclaim, particularly from festival audiences.
In Bloom is no exception. It opened the Birds Eye View Film Festival last month at the BFI Southbank and was also available to watch online on the same evening – weeks ahead of its cinema release on 2nd May. This “Ultra VOD” release is one of the first of its kind in the UK and, rather aptly, helped to give a wider audience to a film that feels equally unique.
Set in 1992 Georgia, it follows the growing pains of two girls: the quiet Eka Khizanishvili (Lika Babluani) and the outgoing Natia Zaridze (Mariam Bokeria). While Eka keeps her heads in books, Natia turns heads in the streets, attracting no end of mail suitors. So far, so traditional – until one of her hopeful men lures her into a back alley to give her a gift: a loaded gun.
What’s striking isn’t the object itself, but her reaction: Natia accepts it, gazing at the weapon as she turns it over in her hands. Natia and Eka pass the gun between them while hiding in the school toilets, a typical shared secret between two teenage girls, warped by the violent world around them.
“He really loves you,” decides Eka.
The civil war raging following the country’s split from Russia slowly seeps into the frame – snatches of audio on a radio briefly heard over the domestic unrest in Natia’s house, as the family shout their way through conflict. Eka’s home, meanwhile, is just as tense, thanks to the looming shadow of her father’s past, which has left him in prison. Even standing in the bread line (where soldiers push in) descends into shocking chaos.
The gun, then, seems like just the next step in the girls arming themselves for adult life in a society governed by murder and patriarchal traditions, such as forced marriage. Eka is followed by bullies when she goes home from school. The solution is simple – and has a trigger. “You need to talk to idiots like that in a way they understand,” says the forthright Katia.
It carries an altogether different significance for her, a girl who finds herself the subject of possessive proposals from local boy Kote (Zurab Gogaladze), who’s been waiting to pick up crumbs of her affection for years.
The pair of untrained actors are fantastically natural, gently steered by directors Simon Gross and Nana Ekvtimishvili – making her own debut. Ringing with her autobiographical truth, Ekvtimishvili’s first film is a subtle affair – one that happily strolls alongside the girls with the long, unhurried takes of youth through hostile streets.
Those strolls come to several striking pauses, particularly when Eka takes to the dance floor at a wedding. She goes through the traditional motions, a spiral of almost alluring motion, backing into men behind her, who automatically make way – a rare chance for her to dictate events to other people.
As Natia encounters the disappointment of growing up and its trappings, which leave her unable to do what she wants, Eka’s dance, with a glimmer of a smile, hints at the hope of getting older; a flicker of a maturing nation embracing history and taking control of its own identity.
“What are you staring at? Are you seeing me for the first time?” shouts Natia in one heated confrontation.
That’s the same sensation you get from In Bloom. Its unspoken contrast between the big and small makes for an intimate, engrossing movie – one that makes the coming-of-age story feel new all over again.