The significance of the old adage known as Chekhov’s gun has subtly changed over the years. At the time, Chekhov was arguing in favor of narrative tidiness—in his view, it was pointless to introduce a gun into the story unless it was going to be fired at some point (usually near the end). Today, such a methodical approach is frequently perceived as overly neat, and citing Chekhov’s gun amounts to accusing a work of flirting with cliché. It’s still possible to mine the tension that exists between those two poles, however, and the Georgian bildungsroman drama In Bloom, which very deliberately hands a gun to characters the viewer doesn’t want or expect to use it, pulls off that trick with aplomb. Keenly observed, geographically specific portraits of adolescence are always welcome, but there’s definitely something to be said for charging the genre’s usual tender lyricism with an ever-present threat of life-altering violence.
Set in 1992, just a year after Georgia had gained its independence (and during a time when it was embroiled in civil war), In Bloom focuses on two 14-year-old girls, Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria), who are best friends despite their clashing personalities. Eka, the more sober and watchful of the duo, has a father in prison and is regularly hassled by a pair of bullies who wait for her as she walks home from school. Natia, who’s more conventionally pretty, escapes a volatile home life by flirting with various boys, though she’s not at all interested in her most obnoxiously persistent suitor, Kote (Zurab Gogaladze). It’s the usual teenage angst, except that another of Natia’s admirers, the dashing Lado (Data Zakareishvili), presents her with a handgun as a romantic gesture, wanting to be sure she can protect herself should anything unexpected happen. Natia, in turn, promptly gives it to Eka, though that’s only the first of several exchanges over the course of this low-key yet increasingly nerve-wracking movie.
Directors Nana Ekvtimishvili (who’s Georgian) and Simon Gross (who’s German) walk a tricky line between making the gun central to the story and largely ignoring it. In Bloom is quietly observational, for the most part—an expert character study rooted in a very specific time and place, equally conversant with the chaos of daily bread lines and the boredom of unsupervised teen girls. (It’s also savvy enough to have its kids listening to credible music, like the now-forgotten Phil Collins track “Heat On The Street.”) Its tour de force is not an act of violence, but an act of surprising passion, in which Eka performs a sensual dance that serves as defiance, liberation, and a declaration of love all at once. Yet, the threat of the gun being fired is always there, and the movie, to its credit, isn’t coy about that, serving up continual reminders both of the weapon’s existence and of its potential usefulness. The way that’s finally resolved isn’t entirely satisfying, and it’s hard to say whether Chekhov would approve, which is fascinating in itself.