Runs Fri., March 21–Thurs., March 27 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 102 minutes.
Current events in Crimea find a faint echo in this coming-of-age film set in 1992 Georgia. That country, newly loosed from the USSR, is engaged in a tussle with Russia over the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Yet news bulletins of the conflict register only dimly with the shy, bookish 14-year-old Eka (Lika Babluani). Her father’s in jail for unspecified reasons, and she spends most of her time with BFF Natia (Mariam Bokeria)—taller, a touch more worldly, and already attracting plenty of male attention.
Inspired by the youth of writer/co-director Nana Ekvtimishvili, In Bloom is a portrait of place as well as adolescence. Eka’s and Natia’s family problems and boy problems are well familiar; the crumbling fabric and social customs of Tbilisi are a different matter. Decades of corruption and neglect are written not just in the city, but on the lined faces of the girls’ elders. Pushing and shoving at a breadline show an ingrained meanness among the citizenry. Teen thugs routinely harass Eka on the street (they only ogle the more intimidating Natia, who finally gives Eka a pistol for protection). When the two girls ride a rickety old tram up to a hilltop park, you seriously worry that its rusty cables will snap.
Whatever their youthful promise, in other words, the future doesn’t look too promising for these teens (nor for Georgia itself). Sexism is rampant here. Women find their freedom only in all-female conclaves (including one lovely scene where a dozen girls burst into song). And the pre-Soviet practice of kidnapping (and raping) one’s bride hasn’t gone away. Natia’s beauty gives her a bit of power, but no real choice between the two guys fighting over her. Not so grim as, say, current Romanian cinema, lacking much overt drama, In Bloom strikes a mostly melancholy, pessimistic tone. Eka may briefly cast off her inhibitions to dance at a wedding, but it’ll be back to the breadline in the morning—and, years later, probably to the passport office.