By Carlos Aguilar | SydneysBuzz December 2, 2013 at 7:30PM
In Bloom, Georgia's Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. : Big World Pictures. International Sales Agent: Memento Films International (MFI)
Turbulent and young, the Georgian nation, like many others that achieved independence from the Soviet Union, is a land perpetually torn by war and suffering within a ramshackle economy. In 1992, fresh after gaining sovereignty, the conflict at hand involves nationals and separatists from the region of Abkhazia, an event that sinks the already pessimistic population even deeper into despair. For the most part, films that focus on such events tend to concentrate on the hardships experienced by soldiers in the fighting front. This approach often leaves the female experience remaining unexplored. Fortunately, in Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß’s In Bloom, this chaotic period is seen from the perspective of two girls who turn the film into a piece that fuses their coming-of-age preoccupations with the social disorder of the time.
Surrounded by the constant state of scarcity and widespread neuroses which is Tbilisi, pubescent best friends Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria) see their lives with strongly divergent aspirations. Natia’s family is far beyond dysfunctional. Her alcoholic father and fed-up mother use every breath to argue violently while her grandmother and younger brother must endure the frequent mayhem resulting from this and from the decaying living conditions all around. Meanwhile, Eka’s home is far more uneventful since her mother works all day, her older sister spends her time plotting with her friend, and her dad is in prison. Oddly enough, the two girls gravitate towards each other for comfort, unconditional support, and together they navigate through the shoals of their confusing age and ever-changing environment. Her older crush Lado (Data Zakareishvili) gives Natia a gun for protection while he is abroad and she won’t hesitate to use it against Elka's bullies. The latter, less disturbed by the boys’ attention, wants to find out what her father did since her mother refuses to tell her.
Coerced into marriage with local tough guy Kote (Zurab Gogaladze), and likely perceiving it as a means to escape her household, Natia does not expect the turn her life takes. Intuitive Eka knows her friend won’t happy with a man that doesn’t allow her to pursue a career playing the piano or seeing her classmates, but her hands are tied and there is not much she can do. Still, when Lado returns from Moscow it is obvious that Natia’s feelings for him are still present. With a gun at their disposal, a despicable crime of passion committed, and their friendship at stake, the two loyal allies, forced to grow up prematurely, must choose between revenge and resignation.
Graced with spellbinding performances by the two young leading ladies, the film is a tour de force that as it rises to its explosive climax. Playing Natia, Mariam Bokeria is a fierce free spirit who is tamed by the yoke of a male-centric society. Bokeria blesses the story with high caliber acting in every frame. Complementary, Lika Babluani as Eka is hypnotizing. At first shy and defenseless, the actress embellishes her role with gutsy subdued strength that allows her to handle disputes with decisiveness. Her recently developed confidence peaks at Natia’s wedding, when, in a mesmerizing standout sequence, Eka puts on a show dancing for the attendees. More a statement than mere spur of the moment fun, her elegant moves earn her nothing less than a standing ovation.
Designed with a gloomy yet stylishly vivid look, the film is gorgeous to look a in a rustic and evocative fashion. There is an eternal sense of desperation
in the story that doesn’t hinder the protagonists’ necessity to experience life, to bloom in spite of the somber context. On the contrary, the strangeness
of their ordeal makes for an absorbing, and artfully crafted tale. Unequivocally In Bloom is an enthralling work of cinema
adorned with flawless performances, terrific direction, and fully aware of the importance of its national identity. One can only wish for it to be a serious
contender for some well-deserved worldwide recognition.