"In Bloom," the foreign language film Oscar submission from Georgia, revolves around two 14-year-old girls coming of age in 1992. Best friends Eka and Natia live in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a newly independent country after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but independence hasn't made life any easier.
There's violence and unrest, with justice doled out vigilante style. Food is scarce and bread lines are long. And a lot of young girls don't even get the opportunity to be teenagers because they are kidnapped by men and forced into marriage.
Nana Ekvtimishvili, who was raised in Tbilisi, wrote the film, which opens Friday, and co-directed it with her German-born husband, Simon Gross. The two met in Munich, Germany, as film students and currently live and work in Tbilisi.
The couple discussed via email the making of the drama.
Nana, is "In Bloom" autobiographical?
Ekvtimishvili: If "autobiographical" means precisely representing one's life and telling one's life story, then no, it is not fully autobiographical. But there is a lot in common between the events in the movie and things that happened in my life.
I can say that the situation in Georgia then was far more cruel and merciless than the film shows. The story in the film is told from the perspective of 14-year-old girls and that was our aim. Had it taken place during winter, it would have been a totally different film. On top of the lack of food, there was no heating or hot water during winter. People were cold. My mother brought in firewood from the street. Sometimes she would burn old chairs in the stove. I thought violence was the norm. I also remember joy from that period. In 1992, my nephew was born, and the whole family raised him.
Did you know classmates who were kidnapped?
Ekvtimishvili: Girls were indeed abducted for marriage. I know countless girls who got married in that way. The fact of the matter is, at that time, this practice was not considered an outrage. Girls thought that if a boy abducts you, he really loves you. Many of them got married. But I remember one case where a girl, who had been locked in a room, simply jumped out the window.
Abduction for marriage almost never happens anymore. But sometimes girls still marry very young. This is because young people tend to live with their parents and have difficulty living their lives independently. Moving away from one's family is still linked to starting one's own family.
The two young girls, both nonprofessionals, are remarkable. How did you find them?
Gross: We looked for a long time before we found Lika Babluani, who plays Eka, and Mariam Bokeria, who plays Natia. We visited 100 schools in Tbilisi and many, many girls of that age. We found Lika in one of the schools, and Mariam we spotted in the street.
We rehearsed intensively for two months before we started shooting. They liked each other from the first day. On set they helped each other. It was like they had one body.
Was it difficult, Nana, once you started filming, to relive your past?
Ekvtimishvili: During filming, I was only thinking about work. I did not have to think about my life or the past. But sometimes miracles happen, and one such miracle happened during filming. While I was on the set, I was told that a certain person wanted to see me. A young woman came up to me whom I recognized as a classmate who was abducted when she was 14. She was not the direct prototype of the character of Natia, but her abduction at the time left a big impression on me. Seeing her brought everything to life for me.
"In Bloom" was the official Oscar submission from your country and has won several awards including best film at the Sarajevo Film Festival and a special jury prize at the Montreal World Film Festival. How has it been received in Georgia?
Ekvtimishvili: During the Soviet time there were 86 movie theaters in Georgia and a total of 5 million tickets were sold every year. Today, the picture is different. In Tbilisi, a city of 1 million, there are only three movie theaters. Our film played in two theaters in Tbilisi, and 28,000 people saw the film. Many people saw the film twice. The film touched not only people who lived through the 1990s, but also the younger generation who know about that time only from their parents.