Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry

Switzerland-Georgia-France-Netherlands-Germany 2023, 111 mins
Director: Elene Naveriani

After I Am Truly a Drop of Sun on Earth (2017) and Wet Sand (2021), it’s no surprise that the title of Elene Naveriani’s third feature makes poetry of natural imagery. If Ingmar Bergman hadn’t got there first, it could just as easily have been called ‘Autumn Sonata’, focusing as it does on a solitary woman seemingly in the autumn of her life who, one year, as the leaves begin to fall and the post-summer downpours set in, undergoes an existential awakening.

Out walking one morning picking blackberries in a Georgian village, local woman Etero (Eka Chavleishvili) loses her footing and plunges down the side of a ravine, narrowly saving herself from falling into the churning waters below. It’s an uncharacteristic misstep for this stolid, taciturn shop proprietor, and as she stares down at the spot where she almost ended up, and locks eyes with a vision of her dead self washed up on the shore, something clicks inside her.

Mere hours later, she all but pounces on the delivery guy who’s arrived at her store with a consignment of shelf stock, making passionate love to him on the storeroom floor. It’s her first-ever sexual encounter, and one she is careful to conceal from the inhabitants of the small, gossipy village in which she lives: the man who has taken her virginity, Murman (Temiko Chichinadze), is a married father of two.

The stage seems set for a story of doomed liaisons and small-town melodrama, but what follows is as organic and unpredictable as the film’s opening sequence. For Etero, everything’s changed, yet nothing has: she’s still a marginal figure among her so-called friends; she still conducts herself with proud, laconic confidence; she still loves to pick and eat wild blackberries. But when she sits alone by the dining table one evening, exulting in the feel of her own body, the warmth of the long-suppressed fire inside her suffuses the frame for the very first time.

As the narrative unfolds, pointed ironies make themselves felt. Etero’s shop specialises in beauty and cleaning products, yet she has no interest in pursuing the normative path that the other women in this particular village have ordained for themselves. At one point, tucking into a decadent millefeuille, surrounded by pastel-pink wallpaper, Etero makes clear to one flirty customer: ‘If marriage and dicks brought happiness, many women would be happy.’

Though there are thorns to be found in this bright bougainvillaea of a film, its easy going story, which sees Etero pursue her affair with Murman on her own terms, blossoms with a similar enchantment to Naveriani’s compatriot Alexandre Koberidze’s 2021 film What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?. Much of the charm springs from the attention to detail: when Murman ‘forgets’ his glasses as a pretext to head back into the store to see Etero, he’s so smitten that when he departs a minute later he forgets his specs for real. The two films are alike, too, in the stillness of their camera and their beautifully framed and lit interior shots.

Naveriani’s use of bold colours and deep shadow also recalls late-period Aki Kaurismäki, whose autumnally titled Fallen Leaves, like Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry, premiered at Cannes in 2023. Both films are about a solitary shop worker who embarks on a relationship in middle age; both films share a certain sense of timelessness, with few signifiers of modernity; both situate their romances in a gentle but unmistakable social critique. In Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry, it’s not so much capitalism under the microscope as gender conventions. All Etero’s friends have settled down and procreated with their husbands; Etero’s apartness is conveyed as much by Naveriani’s careful blocking as by Chavleishvili’s subtly modulated performance. In one early scene, Etero is visited by domineering visions of her father and brother, who ensured, as long as they were alive, that she duly fulfilled her role as matriarch, her mother having died of ovarian cancer shortly after giving birth to Etero.

The death has cast a long shadow over Etero’s life, leaving her riddled with misplaced guilt. When she notices some dark discharge – the colour of blackberries – in her underwear, she immediately fears the worst. But it’s characteristic of the film that this ominous turn of events sets up a delightful climactic twist. As a twittering blackbird appears on the soundtrack before the final cut to black, a line from McCartney-Lennon’s ‘Blackbird’ seems to fit Etero perfectly: ‘All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.’
Arjun Sajip, Sight and Sound, May 2024

Elene Naveriani on ‘Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry’

You worked with Eka Chavleishvili on Wet Sand [2021]. What was it like working with her again on this film?

Basically it was written for her. So that also helped me a lot during the writing process… I felt her sensibility. I knew that she was able to carry the character on her shoulders… I think that she still doesn’t know what she carries as an actress. She’s very, very humble and this makes her even more mesmerising.

When it comes to sexual exploration, we tend to see a very particular type of body on screen. I was wondering if that was in the back of your mind, in terms of having a character of Etero’s age shown in such beautiful shots?

I mean, it’s a bit too flat to say that we are lacking representation of bodies like hers. We are lacking a lot of things… It’s very repetitive. It’s very boring. There are the same kind of humans that we see all the time in cinema… All of us [are] going to get to this point in life, but we don’t know how to deal with this because nobody talks about this and nobody shows that… In the beginning I felt that there were people [who] didn’t know how to look at it. It made them a bit awkward… But, by the end of the film, they totally forgot about this. It’s not the main thing.

I’m curious about the use of colour in the film. You have these mauve-y purples to mirror the blackberries and the spot of blood on the sheets…

Of course the first inspiration was blackberries… For me, it always represents [Etero’s] interior world. I wanted the colours to be very defined and very expressive. In her life, she is very reserved, she doesn’t take a lot of initiatives. She always waits… But inside she’s very expressive. There is this full palette that she carries. And I wanted that on the walls where she lives or where she goes. The entire environment kind of enhances her expressionist character and being.

Interview by Nathasha Orlando Kappler, Sight and Sound, May 2024

Directed by: Elene Naveriani
©: Takes Film LLC
Production Companies: Alva Film, Takes Film, Totem Films
Presented by: Alva Film, Takes Film
Produced by: Thomas Reichlin, Britta Rindelaub, Ketie Danelia
Line Producer: Lado Chikhradze
Location Manager: Khatuna Gogua
1st Assistant Director: Marina Kulumbegashvili
Script and Continuity: Ana Machabeli
Casting by: Leli Miminoshvili, Shoka Maghradze
Screenplay by: Elene Naveriani, Nikoloz Mdivani
Based on the novel by : Tamta Melashvili
Script Consultants: Isabelle Fauvel, Hakim Mao, Suzy Gillett
Director of Photography: Agnesh Pakozdi
Set Photographer: Khatia (Juda) Psuturi
Special Effects Co-ordinator: Sosa Gvasalia
Editing by: Aurora Franco Vögeli
Production Designer: Teo Baramidze
Costume Designer: Nino Injia
Hair and Make-up Designers: Julia Nietlispach, Eka Chikhradze
Sound Designer: Philippe Ciompi
Location Sound Mixer: Marc von Stürler
Stunt Co-ordinator: David Khubua

Eka Chavleishvili (Etero Gelbakhiani, ‘Eto’)
Temiko Chinchinadze (Murman)
Pikria Nikabadze (Neno)
Tamar Mdinaradze (Londa)
Lia Abuladze (Natela)
Anka Khurtsidze (Tsisana)
Giorgi Kartvelishvili (Nukri)
Ani Mogeladze (Elene)
Mariam Didia (Sopiko)
Rezi Karosanidze (Etero’s brother)
Gocha Nemsitsveridze (Etero’s father)
Emzari Khachapuridze (watermelon seller)

Switzerland-Georgia-France-Netherlands-Germany 2023©
111 mins
A New Wave release

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