Wednesday, January 08, 2014

In Bloom: Submitted By Georgia

It is the early 1990’s and teenaged Georgian Girls just what to have fun. Unfortunately, Georgia is not a very fun place, combining the rationing of Communism with the lawlessness of a rogue state. Nevertheless, two fourteen year old school chums will try to get on with their lives as best they can in Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Gross’s In Bloom (trailer here), Georgia’s official foreign language Oscar submission, which opens this Friday in New York.

Eka Khizanishvili is shier but perhaps wiser than her more socially confident best friend, Natia Zaridze.  Neither has an ideal family life.  For Khizanishvili, home is a cold place, where she is largely ignored by her contemptuous older sister and preoccupied mother.  Her father is conspicuously absent for reasons that will eventually be revealed.  In contrast, Zaridze’s parents are constantly battling each other, not so subtly paralleling the wider civil strife of the era.

Zaridze also has one too many suitors: the comparatively sensitive Lado and the knuckle-dragging Kote.  Unfortunately, in her social milieu, courtship is less about wooing and more about taking. Yet it is Khizanishvili who is more troubled by their expected gender roles than the more directly affected Zaridze.  There also happens to be a gun, a love offering from Lado, passing back and forth between the tweens.

To a large extent, In Bloom simple revisits the familiar working class angst some festivals never tire of programming.  There are no surprises really anywhere in the film, but it has its moments.  In a defining standout scene, Khizanishvili appeases her friend by dancing at her wedding.  While her movements are sufficiently correct to please the revelers, her penetrating eyes betray all her misgivings.  It might actually be too well staged and performed, because the rest of the film cannot match its power.

Still, Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria are remarkably expressive and convincingly natural as Khizanishvili and Zaridze, respectively.  They look and sound like impulsive schoolgirls, forced by circumstances to mature beyond their years.  They own the movie in full, even though the entire ensemble fit their roles like grubby, well-patched Communist era gloves.

Despite their deliberate pace, Ekvtimishvili & Gross are a tad unfocused, veering between gender and class-based issue dramas.  Babluani and Bokeria are both enormous young talents, arguably more deserving of the praise heaped on the Blue is the Warmest Color duo, but the narrative is simply too drearily familiar.  There are memorably elements here, but they never really come together.  For the Georgian expat community, it opens this Friday (1/10) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.