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AFI Fest Review: IN BLOOM

Movies that make me have to check on a map to find out where their country of origin actually is are among my favorites. It’s just fascinating to me to see a culture that I literally know nothing about. The country of Georgia, turns out, is located between Russia and Turkey. That’s already more than I knew, but Georgia’s official entry for this year’s Academy Awards, In Bloom, was far more educational than that. It tells of two young girls growing up in the turbulent early-’90s in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. The film was written by Nana Ekvtimishvili, taken from things that happened to her in her childhood and co-directed by Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß. It doesn’t seem like an easy time or place to be a girl.

The story follows two friends, Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria), fourteen year old girls with very different lives. Eka’s father is in prison, and her mother works most of the time to support Eka and her older sister, who does little else than sit around smoking and gabbing with friends. Natia’s father is a drunk, and her family, including her mother, grandmother, and younger brother, all fight loudly during the waking hours. Eka is incredibly shy and doesn’t like altercations, while Natia is very outspoken and catches the eye of several local boys.

There is a war going on somewhere other than the city, but the effects of it are definitely felt; bread is rationed, and the radios constantly play speeches by political figures saying that it is the duty of every Georgian to be armed. This second point trickles down to the girls when one of Natia’s suitors, a nice young lad named Lado, gives her the gift of a handgun and a single bullet. He says he wants her to be safe. The gun becomes a symbol of power for the girls, even though they don’t let anyone else know of its existence. Natia wants Eka to stand up for herself to the bullies that pester her every day and use the gun as a way of scaring them, which Eka doesn’t want to do.

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The “Chekov’s gun” aspect of this gun creates a very uneasy feeling throughout much of the duration of the film. There’s only one bullet, so we only fear it being shot once, but when and by whom? As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that any use of this gun would be a poor one, but are the girls mature enough not to use it? These are the things weighing on Eka, who quickly becomes the emotional center of the film. She is forced to grow up very quickly, and we see her progress from meek to assertive in a very mannered and believable way.

Violence itself is not necessarily as scary as the threat of violence, especially involving young people, and we really get to like and sympathize with these two girls to the point where the thought of any harm befalling them is abhorrent, but the world they live in dictates that something bad is just a moment away. Both young actresses do a fantastic job, and their emotional transformation from child to adult is expressed very nicely on their faces.

As I said, this film is the official entry from Georgia for a Foreign Film Oscar and it has already picked up accolades in Berlin, Hong Kong, Montreal, and Paris. Keep this movie on your radar this awards season. It might get a limited release, and if it’s playing near you, you should definitely seek it out.

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