Credit: MUBI
by Michael Sicinski Featured Film Streaming Scene

Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry — Elene Naveriani

May 16, 2024

In her previous film Wet Sand, Georgian director Elene Naveriani depicted a clash between the urbane, laid-back values of Tbilisi and the small-minded cruelty of village life. It’s a topic that seems to carry personal weight for the filmmaker since, in essence, she has explored this problem again in her latest film, Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry. However, where Wet Sand was retrospective, filling in the contours of a life that was never fully lived, BBB is about the present-day reverberations of familial trauma, and how a mean-spirited, disapproving community can weaponize a person’s unhappiness.

Etero (Eka Chavleishvili) is a 48-year-old unmarried shopkeeper in a small backwater town. She mostly sells cleaning products, and this puts her in regular contact with the other women in the village, in particular a clique of four embittered women — one middle-aged mother and three seniors — who get together, eat cake, and gossip about anyone who displays the slightest nonconformity. This eventually includes Etero. The others don’t know it, but she has begun a passionate affair with a married man, Murman (Temiko Chichinadze), who delivers inventory for the store.

This affair in no way solves all of Etero’s problems, but it does show her that another path is possible in her life, whereas she had always been dismissed as a sad, lonely spinster. The village women are aware of her difficult life — her mother died young, and her abusive father and brother made her a domestic slave — but mostly shrug it off. That’s just how life is for women, and there is no point in complaining about gender roles or missed opportunities. If you’ve got a man, you should consider yourself lucky. The fact that Etero embraces her independence, that she is living life on her own terms, is intolerable to this community.

However, the relationship with Murman emboldens Etero, awakening her sensuality and boosting her confidence. Her acquaintances see the difference, and while the local ladies want to knock Etero off her supposed high horse, her two friends in Tbilisi, Natela (Lia Abuladze) and Tsisana (Anka Khurtsidze), are supportive and encouraging. One of them tells Etero, “When we get older, we want to be a woman like you.”

Naveriani is a subtle but impressive visual stylist, with chiaroscuro lighting and modern post-Soviet interiors that often resemble Aki Kaurismäki. And like the Finnish filmmaker, Naveriani radiates an almost defiant humanism, suggesting that in a rotten world, kindness and understanding are radical acts. BBB ends with a plot twist, although attentive viewers may well see it coming. Whether this ending is a wise creative decision is less certain, but in the final shot, Chavleishvili conveys Etero’s complex emotions perfectly, leaving it for us to decide whether she feels her newfound freedom is ending, or an exciting new chapter has just begun.

DIRECTOR: Elene Naveriani;  CAST: Eka Chavleishvili, Temiki Chichinadze, Lia Abuladze, Teo Babukhadia;  DISTRIBUTOR: MUBI STREAMING: May 14;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 50 min.