While attending film school in Germany, Nana Ekvtimishvili started writing the script that would one day become her first feature, In Bloom.
Ekvtimishvili was born in Tbilisi, Georgia. Georgia was a part of the Soviet Union prior to the fall of the USSR in 1992. However, even after declaring its independence, Georgia has remained war torn. The country was embroiled in a civil war in 1995, revolutions due to elections in the early 2000s, and more recently, the Second Chechen War. Ekvtimishvili wanted to write about her experiences growing up in the country.
After studying philosophy at the Ivane Javakhishvili State University of Tbilisi, Ekvtimishvili moved to Germany to study screenwriting and dramaturgy at the Academy of Film and Television in Potsdam-Babelsburg, Germany. She studied under Konrad Wolf, an East German film director. Her prose has been published in the Georgian literary magazine, Arili. In 2011, she directed her first short film, Deda/Waiting for Mum.
In 2012, with her husband Simon Gros, she co-directed her first feature-length film, the script she’d started working on during film school, In Bloom.
Set in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1992, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the film is a coming of age story about best friends, Natia (Mariam Bokeria) and Eka (Lika Babluani). Their young teenage lives are set against the backdrop of changing political and social order.
While we see Natia and Eka wait in bread lines together, at first we are mostly exposed to their friendship and lives at home. Natia has an alcoholic father who is taken to fits of rage against her mother. Natia must calm her little brother during this family upheaval and her grandmother tries to keep the family together. Eka lives with her mother and older sister. Her mother is very strict but also understanding. When she finds Eka snooping through her room, she’s upset, but when Eka explains she was just looking for information about her father, who is in jail, her mother provides her with the address to write him.
Eka seems more serious and introverted of the pair, while Natia still has childish elements but is more mature in her feelings towards boys. Natia has a crush on Lado, a young man who only comes back to Tbilisi every few months because he works outside of town. She and Lado flirt and spend time together and she promises to wait for him (presumably to propose marriage.)
The volatile mood in Georgia starts to seep into the film. Lado makes Natia close her eyes and hold out her hand, making the audience think he’s going to give her a present, probably jewelry, but instead he gives her a gun to protect herself.
Another boy, Kote, fancies Natia. Eka warns her friend that she can’t put Kote off forever. She’s right. Kote waits for Natia in the hallway to her family’s apartment and proposes to her. Natia tells him no.
When she and Eka are waiting in the breadline the next day, Kote and his friends pull up and pull Natia away, even though Eka fights them. They drive off in their car with Natia and Eka curses out her fellow Georgians for standing there and not helping.
Ekvtimishvili says kidnappings or bride-nappings did and do happen in Georgia. “It was very common for girls my age to be kidnapped against their will by their suitor for marriage, and although it didn’t happen to me, like Natia I strongly felt the need for revenge. I just read a statistic that for 2013 that said seven thousand girls in Georgia left school to marry. And if you ask them, they say they did it because they wanted to, that it’s not a problem. That’s why it’s important to talk about it—and to show it in movies.”
She said the pressure to marry young and for women to leave school wasn’t the primary reason she wrote the film, but she believes those issues are important ones to discuss. “There are still cultural pressures. A woman is more valued with a husband and children. Georgia is a war-torn country; the last war was in 2008. My personal opinion is that when so much war happens, people think, ‘we have to have children, men must defend us, we need this power, women can’t do anything against the enemy.’ That’s why education is so important in these kinds of cultures,” she said in an interview with The Credits.
The gun that emerges in the first act (the one Lado gives to Natia) not only reappears in the third act but throughout the film. Natia gives the gun to Eka, who uses it to protect a younger boy from being picked on by older boys, Eka gives Natia the gun back on her wedding day, Natia becomes frustrated in her marriage and Eka is worried about what Natia will do with the gun. The gun is much more than a symbol of violence in this war-torn country, but how the Georgian people have become almost immune and unfeeling in the face of violence because of constantly being surrounded by it.
Many critics hailed the film as the new wave or the spring of Georgian cinema. so Ekvtimishvili said the climate for filmmakers in Georgia is very difficult. Gros and Ekvtimishvili pieced together funding over the years. They got money from the Georgia National Film Center, but still needed help from other countries, because “it’s almost impossible to do a film in Georgia without funding from other countries,” Ekvtimishvili said.
They found the actors for Eka and Natia on the streets of Tbilisi. “Lika was in school. Mariam we just saw walking on the streets in Tbilisi. They didn’t know the process; they just followed us and had fun coming to casting meetings and an intensive rehearsal period. The main focus for me and Simon was to let them be who they are and not to direct them into something else. We wanted their own natural characters. We just tried to find them and it worked.”
Although the film premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2013 and was selected as the Georgian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, Ekvtimishvili is perhaps most proud of its presence in Georgia. “It has played in two of the three cinemas in Tbilisi and more than 27,000 people have seen it, which is good for an art film. I didn’t expect people would love a film that’s about a difficult, dark time that some would rather not remember, but they liked that it came from the point of view of two girls.”
Sources: The Credits