This life is so bitter and harsh. If you have a dream it will crush it.
Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß’s In Bloom (2013) is a beautiful little slice of realism, an understated yet universal film. Written by Nana Ekvtimishvili and set in 1992, immediately after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the newly independent nation of Georgia, In Bloom (Grzeli nateli dgeebi) is a coming of age story about two teenage girls. Sure the film subtly addresses economic complexities of the post-Communist Caucasus, but it is also about how hard it is being a teenager, which through the delicately bleak vision of this film is as difficult in 1992 Georgia as it is in 2014 United States. This is a story about girls and their fathers and the pressures of sexuality and economy. About guns and misplaced love. About bread and the money to buy it. About putting food on the table, and how to create freedom and future when all you have is a plate full of beans. Certainly this is a tale many can relate to.
Though set over twenty years ago in a country far removed from my home here in Tucson, Arizona, the film really struck a chord for me. As the mother of a 15 year old daughter who is struggling with her own coming of age, the plight of these girls really hit home. Some things are universal, like adolescent struggles for identity and sexuality. Packs of girls clamber to have a voice in a cloud of smoke from the cigarettes they pass around like some kind of toxic rite of passage. Girls crowd in bathrooms plastering themselves with lipstick and smoke. Rebellion in the classroom and the streets. Confrontations with boy bullies, boy flirts, and bad boy seducers. These things can happen anywhere. Being a teenager is universally scary shit.
One girl’s father is in prison for killing a man. The girl visits her mother’s bedroom daily and inspects memorabilia from her father – a wooden box with some photos, a stack of letters, a lone cigarette in an empty pack. She puts the cigarette to her nose and smells it, trying to capture her father. The other girl’s father is a drunk. He brings his riotous humor and drunken escapades home to the disgrace and outrage of his wife, mother, and daughter. The grandmother puts up with the shit while dishing out dinner and telling the children she will cut them in half if they don’t behave. The parents fight and break things. Then they dance in a drunken swirl at a wedding. Love, marriage, family, economy – these are complicated things. They are not easy, especially for young people struggling to define their own sexual identity in relation to and independent from their parents and other adults.
Everything is chaos, yet everything is ordinary. A gun comes into the picture. The girls pass it between them. The stage is set for tragedy. But this isn’t melodrama. Bad things happen and then just things happen. It is all a picture of life. A song is sung first by a group of girls and then by the dad of one of the girl’s suiters. The refrain is: “This life is so bitter and harsh. If you have a dream it will crush it.” And dreams are crushed, but that is accepted as reality not melodrama. Instead the song is sung as romantic realism, as if beauty can still be found in the world of crushed dreams.
And beauty is found in this film. In the in-between places. The understated cinematography. The way light comes through time-worn curtains, or graffiti blends into concrete under hazy Georgian light. A quiet close-up of a girl’s introspective face as she ponders whether to take a drag of her imprisoned father’s last cigarette.
The human struggles in this film are geographic and time specific yet universal and timeless. Families are all fucked up yet stay together. Young people fight for freedom and voice amongst vicious and volatile packs of teenagers. People struggle to get by and scrape together enough money for a loaf of bread. They marry badly and die without glory. The fact that the film is set in 1992 right after the fall of communism brings these human struggles to the forefront. They are not masked by the faux façade of American luxury. This is gritty realism where people scrape the dirt off the bread and take a bite. They face the same struggles people face everywhere, scrambling for economic survival and a piece of joy in a joyless world. Even though flawed and at times desperate and deluded, the characters in this film have dignity because they are human, vulnerable, real.
One scene is particularly effective in showing what “In Bloom” (or coming of age) really means. At the two girls’ prompting, a class of high school students revolts against the teacher and storms out of the class. They leave the school and end up riding bumper cars at an amusement park. The boys and girls laugh in manic anarchy as they smash the cars into each other, a kind of primal ritual of violence-infused sexual flirting. Teenage feral desperation and the revolt of emotion and sexual tension play out in exquisite metaphor in this scene. Being a teenager in high school is like being thrown into an arena of bumper cars, whether in the 1992 Caucasus or 2014 United States.
The film resists melodrama and instead plays the reality card beautifully. Sad things happen. Bad things happen, but they are all just part of life. No rainbows. Just loaves of bread, guns wrapped in dishtowels, and girls smoking a lot of cigarettes. It is a movie about coming of age and also about economic tension and gender roles. Girls define themselves in relation to their fathers, the boys who try to reel them in, their mothers and grandmothers. What opportunities exist for young girls in the new world economy operating within old world patriarchy? Yet this is the world so many young people face as they grow up under the oppressive fist of Capitalism which promises everything and delivers very little, especially when you are a fifteen year old girl trying to come to terms with the daunting prospects of a futureless future.
Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. She recently published her first book, Mapping the Inside Out, in conjunction with a solo gallery show by the same name. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.