Georgian Growing Pains

In Bloom features two actresses who shine in their first roles

In Bloom takes place in the country of Georgia, within a year of its emergence from the fallen Soviet Union. A nasty civil war (which would last more than a decade) and economic turmoil define this period in Georgian history. And while a country must come to grips with its own independence, so too must Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria).

They don't appear to be all that alike but there's something about their own family lives and the deterioration throughout their city that draws the girls together. Eka's family is broken, and she refuses to visit her father. Natia's parents are still together, though who knows why: All they do is fight, that is, after her dad has a few too many. Eka is more withdrawn and quiet while Natia is defiant and pretty. They're 14, and Natia is starting to get the attention of boys.

The playwright Anton Chekhov likely had no idea how often his name would be referenced in relation to guns. But, as it happens, about a century ago he wrote that there's no use having a loaded gun onstage unless someone intended to use it. It's practical advice, and it's the closest thing to a tip of the hat the movies have ever given to Chekhov. Guns aren't set dressing in film; they never go unused and they never fail to figure into the proceedings.

The introduction of the gun in In Bloom is ominous. For the first 25 minutes or so, it appears that this will be a teenage-growing-pains film set against a backdrop of family infighting and a nation rising anew out of the stranglehold of communism. But because of the girls' age, the gun could also be a metaphor—a phallic symbol for Natia's maturation, one big step up from Eka's stolen cigarettes—of the dangers of growing up anywhere, much less Tbilisi, Georgia.

Directors Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross balance the girls' growing pains alongside those of their homeland. There's more at work here, though. Eka and Natia are part of a generation of young women who might become something other than housewives and mothers; they might one day direct movies like Nana Ekvtimishvili. But the cultural strata are difficult to shake here—it's a man's world and women (and certainly teenage girls) are not nearly as valued.

Case in point: Although Natia is in love with Lado (Data Zakareishvili), she is bride-napped by Kote (Zurab Gogaladze), a neighborhood tough with little to recommend. Whatever future Natia might have had now seems terribly hampered. The fact that this sort of thing could still go on is surprising, let alone that the wedding is a big, splashy affair with family and friends.

But then something bizarre happens. Eka, visibly disgusted in the presence of all the revelry at the wedding, takes a drink and performs the angriest traditional folk dance you'll likely ever see. It's all raw emotion, and the gathered crowd stops to watch. Judge its meaning for yourself, but it's certainly the centerpiece of the film.

Babluani and Bokeria are native Georgian girls who had never previously acted professionally. Collectively and individually, they drive In Bloom with that spark of childhood and boldness of youth that can't be manufactured. Although the film itself never truly comes together until it ends, and there are many moments that seem fairly irrelevant at the time, the two young actresses make up for the movie's less than stellar moments.

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