IN BLOOM directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross is Georgia’s Oscar Entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Award.
Early nineties, in Tbilisi, the capital of the newly independent Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The country is facing violence, war on the Black Sea coast (Abkhazia) and vigilante justice that plagues society. But for Eka and Natia, fourteen-year-old inseparable friends, life is just beginning to unfold – in the street, at school, with friends or older siblings. Although they are already dealing with male dominance, early marriage and disillusioned love, life is just beginning for these two girls “in bloom”.
Cinema Without Borders: How did you come up with the idea of making IN BLOOM?
Nana Ekvtimishvili: I was thinking about my childhood. I had a pretty good childhood, I think. Some people, especially in Western countries, might think that I had a terrible childhood because of the things that happened and the things I witnessed… but at some point a person decides whether his childhood was good or not, or how it was in general. Ultimately we are the writers of our own story, separate from the circumstances and the people who influenced our lives.
They were many things I had problems accepting during my childhood and teenage years. One of them was the institution of forced marriage (bride-napping). No matter how much a guy loves a girl, there is no excuse for this, not even the fact that it is tradition. Many girls would allow themselves to be fascinated with this kind of declaration of love and say “yes” to the marriage. When this happened, I would ask myself, “Where is the girl’s family and society”? The girl’s family members would go to the wedding and applaud. Even though things have changed in Georgia, I don’t want to forget what was happening 20 years ago, I don’t want to forget what kind of society it was that I grew up in.
The idea for IN BLOOM came from my protest at what I had seen at that time, when I was a teenage girl. I wanted to explore why one teenage girl would take some decisions while another would take different ones. Was this because of family, life experience, hormonal or sexual changes, intelligence, or was it just a matter of character? I was thinking about all this while I was writing the script. But before this kind of analytical thinking, first of all, some scenes from the film came to my mind … I would see these scenes and then think “why” and “how”?
CWB: Can you tell us about the research stage in this project?
NE: We had no recherché. Everything in script was from my experience or from my memories.
When we started to prepare for shooting, we would ask questions of our set designer, Kote Japaridze, and costume designer, Medea Bakradze. I was verifying my memories, asking, “is everything in the right place?”
CWB: How challenging was making this film?
NE: Yes, it was very challenging to do this film. It was very personal for me, about a difficult time in my country and in my life. It required that I recall old memories, rebuild settings, find the original locations (everything was shot in its original location). And we worked with non-professional actors and children. It was hard to find money in the country, where the film industry had not functioned properly for the past 20 years, and hard to find money in other countries.
But we were two, my husband, Simon Gross, and me. We have different origins, Simon is from Berlin, I am from Georgia, and I think our four eyes and four hands made the film what it is. We are both very happy that we had a great crew, great people around great actors and us who made the film possible.
CWB: Please tell us about your casting process for IN BLOOM.
NE: We had a very long casting process. We looked mostly for non-professional actors and looked for them everywhere. We visited more than 100 schools…
Now, whenever we walk down the streets in Tbilisi, we always meet children who came to our casting – they are playing football in the backyard or are walking on the street. They say to us “hello” and they ask when we will shoot our next film…
We have a lot of characters in the film – 24 kids in the classroom, children elsewhere in the school, people in the breadline and in the wedding… so the casting was the most exhausting part of the preparation period.
Looking for two 14-year-old girls wasn´t easy. In this age they are changing very fast… and you have to find the right girl in terms of appearance but also in terms of her inner state, you have to catch the moment between her childhood and the moment when she starts to become a woman.
We found Lika (EKA) in a school in Tbilisi. Mariam (NATIA) we saw walking in the street. We introduced Lika and Mari to each other after casting was over. It was great. These two girls are very different and they felt this the first time they met. They liked each other and they were fascinated by each other. They liked their differences, and they were interested in this… They had respect for the things which they didn´t know about each other yet. And they were able to love each other – that was the most important thing!
CWB: Did you do a lot of rehearsals or did you just work with actors and crew on the set?
NE: Yes we did a lot of rehearsals. The two leads didn’t have the script. But they knew every sentence their characters were to say and we went over this beforehand. Through their text and the words of their characters, they bound the script together. We let them do rehearsals from different parts from the script, from the middle, then maybe from the beginning and then maybe from the end and then from somewhere else again. So, there was no continuity… All the time they were somehow in the middle of the story and the two girls suddenly started to create their own characters by themselves. Through the scenes, through the words they were saying to each other… Some things were confusing for them, some things made them angry, and some things seemed to make them happy. They liked it very much. I remember them coming to us and asking excitedly, “so what will happen to me next” and “how will my character react to this.” When they discovered that the character was sometimes close to their real character, they were happy! So the scene where they skipped class was one of the moments, which they loved during the rehearsals. They learned the similarities and differences between them and their characters and accepted them.
The difference between professional and non-professional actors was that we gave the script to professionals and they came to us having already learnt the text for rehearsals. Otherwise, the working process was more or less the same.
We worked extensively with our cameraman Oleg Mutu, set designer and costume designer before shooting. We prepared everything beforehand and we had conversations about the idea of the movie and about the approach to the film generally.
We of course had seen all our locations beforehand and we showed them to Oleg, our cameraman. We visited archives with our costume designer and set designer, we watched TV footage of ordinary people on the street in Georgia in the 1990s…
We had rehearsals also on set. If before the main idea of rehearsal was finding the character, to allow the actors to come close to each other and make them to feel assured, now the main idea of rehearsals on the set was something more: here comes the work with the space, crew and especially with the camera. We had some days where we actually didn’t shoot a lot. We were just doing rehearsals, just for one scene.
The rehearsal between actors and the camera is very important. It’s important for them to get a feel for each other because Oleg´s camera doesn´t try to describe things, Oleg´s camera feels things. And you need to find the right choreography for this. And to catch this in just one shot is almost impossible, but Oleg did this. So however the characters feel and however they move within the space, it`s possible to find the right way to follow them with the camera and that was our approach.
CWB: Did you allow any improvisations proposed by your cast or crew?
NE: Of course. This was the most important thing that happened on set. You might have an absolutely genius idea, and everybody likes it and they are ready to do it, and you are often very well prepared with your crew and so on, but you come on set and discover that it doesn´t work. On set you are working with humans, who have feelings and emotions and it´s not good to ignore this. Maybe because of some reasons, some things simply don’t work. You wanted something and it doesn’t work! So you and your team have to improvise. And this is good, this is how the things happen in real life… and if during this process you are not afraid to lose things, then you won´t lose and things will work out.
CWB: How did you come up with the visual style of your film?
NE: From the beginning of the idea the story was set in spring time. I didn´t want to set the film in the time, what people usually think about Georgia in the 1990s: winter, dark and cold. I remember all the bad things from this time, but still I also remember the friends, the fun we had and the sunny days. And we wanted to follow the characters. We didn´t want to describe the story. We wanted the audience to follow the characters.
When we saw Oleg’s previous work, we knew already that this was a cameraman who absolutely feels characters and was able to come close to them in very authentic, very intuitive way. In the previous films he did – by very different directors, Mungiu and Loznitsa – Oleg applied a different camera approach. Oleg is not one to copy himself. So what Oleg’s camera is doing, is that he is somehow in chemistry with acting, with space, with the story. So that’s why we worked together.
When we talked about the script, we followed the idea of choreography, and not of the conventional style of storytelling, where the scenes are cut and where everything is covered from different points of view. The approach to the visual style of this movie comes through this idea: finding the right point of view for each scene. We developed the choreography of each scene, and we decided to cut the scenes where it seems to be really necessary. Because the cut is also a part of the storytelling process and not just a technical matter. With this approach you can`t apply a single formula, because every scene is different, the characters have different emotions and each scene is a new challenge for everybody on set.
So, improvising on set with the crew, especially with actors and with the cameraman, was a main part of the work. And you can see, even when most of the scenes are done in just one shot, most of the people doesn’t realizes really that it happens in just one shot… because they forget about everything and follow the characters.
CWB: How much of film found its final form in the editing process?
NE: Most of the scenes were shot in just one shot. So at first glance, the film doesn’t look like it was edited at all, but it wasn´t easy. It was even more complicated than doing a conventionally shot film. Stefan Stabenow, our cutter, with whom we´ve worked several times already, said always, that in such a film each cut has a huge meaning. Where you decide to go in the scene and where you finish the scene are especially important with this kind of shooting.
So mostly we didn’t and couldn’t cut in the middle of a scene to create something other than what we’d already shot… Or replace the acting moments, or put something there that could cover something else. No, that was not possible and we knew this before we started to shoot. But to add the scenes together, or to take something out, it took us days and sometimes weeks. Sometimes we had to watch the whole movie to decide where to make just one cut. We left some scenes out of the film, and we tried to make the narrative a little tighter. In essence, the whole story and the rhythm of the story were created all over again during the editing process.
Just as shooting was wrapping up, Stefan came to Georgia and started to edit. So after shooting – as soon as we were physically able to go to the editing room – we went there and saw what we did and how it worked.
The narrative didn’t change much, but the process was very important to find the right rhythm of the film and the dynamic of the story.
CWB: Please tell us about the critics and audience responses to IN BLOOM.
NE: We got lot of feedback at the festivals all around the world. So far we have had a release in one country, Georgia, and it was great. We have a release on 27 November in France and in Belgium, and on 19 December in the Netherlands. IN BLOOM will be in theatres in the USA, UK and Australia next year, as well as in former Yugoslav countries, in Hungary and in Russia.
In Georgia, in Tbilisi we unfortunately have only three movie theatres; IN BLOOM was shown in two of them. Most people don’t usually go to the cinema, but they came to our film! It is unbelievable that in just two cinemas more than 27,000 people have seen IN BLOOM in Tbilisi. After people saw the movie, they started to talk about their own lives in the 1990s in Georgia. The women started to talk about how they got married at that time, people started to talk about friends who died… Many people came to us or wrote us. They were of various ages: people who lived in the 1990s in Georgia and young people who know about that period from their parents.
Also, the critics were very good. People in other countries started to talk about a new wave in Georgia, about Georgian cinema, the country, the history and culture. And many cineastes started to recall old great Georgian films, especially from the 1970s.
Also, there was a very good response in other countries at the festivals. Of course it depended on the countries, on their history, character and temperament, but one thing was the same everywhere: everybody felt in love with our two characters Eka and Natia.
CWB: Any future project that you can tell us about?
NE: At the moment I am writing a novel which I hope to finish soon and which will published in Georgia in the Georgian language.
What I can say about future movie plans? I am writing script, it’s again all about Georgia: either Georgians in my home city Tbilisi, in a big Georgian family, or in aboard, like many Georgians, like me, couple of years ago, when I was studying and living in Berlin.