During the first minutes of the film, we find ourselves observing a woman picking blackberries and almost slipping down an embankment and falling into the river to meet her death. Eventually, she saves herself, and from this moment onwards, Etero (Eka Chavleishvili) stands all the way through the film as a magnificent larger-than-life figure. The story depicts a middle-aged solitary woman, a store owner in some god-forgotten Georgian rural village where she lives her life according to her own rules. Despite her unusual appearance, Etero is formally accepted into the circle of local married women, who treat her with a wide range of different attitudes – from mocking false friendship to open insults and hostility. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Etero fell victim to a tradition that forbids a young girl in a household without a mother not to leave to marry; instead, she was obliged to take care of her widowed father and unmarried brothers. All of them dead now, they still visit Etero in her thoughts and dreams, an open allusion to the fact that such wounds never really heal. Quiet, stoic and stone-faced Etero suddenly takes a lover, a middle-aged married delivery man, and a romance between the two blossoms.
The lovebirds go on with their sexual encounters. The openness and the lust, as well as open nudity of middle-aged bodies far from modern standards of beauty, could make the audience hold their breath for a moment, but the dignity of the central character, Etero, with those large tell-all eyes prevails, and we can take everything for granted despite being caught in the abyss of our own prejudices.
Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry continues as an open critique of rural oppression. The victims of this toxic, archaic social environment are the married women of the village with all their bigotry and gossip, as well as open-minded and stubborn Etero. It is a film about women made by women. The director, Elene Naveriani, made her name with earlier work, including the 2021 festival hit Wet Sand and A Room of My Own (2022), both films depicting girls and women, and their problems in a traditional social environment. Naveriani has worked with the actress Eka Chavleishivili in A Room of My Own, but this was the first time she entrusted her with the main role. Chavleishivili was a renowned theatre actress in her native Georgia long before her international stardom took off with the award for Best Actress in Sarajevo 2023 and the nomination for the European Film Award for Best Actress in the same year. The third woman involved in this movie is the director of photography, Agnes Pakodzi, whose camera gives a slow visual variety from almost still nature to the luscious and fearless photography of naked bodies in bold colours.
The dark red, almost black colour of the blackberries turns out to be the central line of the story, starting with Etero picking fresh fruit; then she is making a jam that gets ruthlessly criticized by village women; and finally the black smear in her pants that she understands as an omen of death but actually is the sign of new life. This last twist in the story is a cherry, no, a blackberry, on the top of the cake, leaving us with the question what this beautiful, magnificent woman is going to do next.
A rural romance? Yes. A social critique? Even more. A hymn to female strength? Definitely. A beautiful, easy-going film on the surface, but deep and fearless as the same river the heroine refuses to fall into and die in. A strong message of humanity with a surprising soundtrack from Charles Aznavour to the Beatles’ “Blackbird”.
Edited by Birgit Beumers
© FIPRESCI 2023