A deceptively powerful portrait of female friendship in the age of Covid in Georgia

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With undying respect to Virginia Woolf, whose “A Room of Her Own” clearly inspired the title of Ioseb ‘Soso’ Bliadze’s beautifully articulated miniature, even before a woman needed money and her own space to pursue her development, she needs to know that she needs these things. Bliadze’s application to the Karlovy Vary competition, superbly performed and remarkably immersive, is one of those stories of temporary inner emancipation, described in the tiniest arcs of change: the breadth of a smile, the warmth of a embrace, the frankness of a look. As such, it’s not cinema’s most tumultuous act of women’s emancipation, but the work of dismantling oppressive patriarchies, such as that which underlies modern Georgian society, needs both hammers and more subtle instruments.

The room in question is a small box at the back of a cramped two-bedroom apartment in Tbilisi. The rent is 600 lari (about $200) a month, to be split equally between socialite Megi (Mariam Khundadze) and her newly arrived roommate Tina (Taki Mumladze, also, importantly, the film’s co-screenwriter). It’s not a lot of money, but delivering everything in advance is a challenge for Tina, a jobless local who is just biding her time for about a month until her boyfriend arrives and they can move in together.

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Money and the shortness of Tina’s planned stay are the primary sources of friction between the two women in their twenties, who are little more than mutually suspicious/dismissive strangers suddenly thrust into close proximity to each other. ‘other. Their initial interactions are stilted, with Tina mostly sitting in her darkened bedroom, the scowl on her face lit up by her phone screen as Megi brings in an ever-rotating circle of friends and lovers to drink hooch. house, smoking joints and playing tubthumping. dance music so loud it practically loops through the thin walls.

But the two young women have their secrets and mysteries. Megi, who casually struts around naked after showering and plans to leave “this goddamn country” as soon as her US visa is issued, has a tendency to pass out in times of great stress. Tina has an angry, sloping red scar running across her back and, already at 25, an ex-husband whose mother calls him a “bitch” on the phone. So while this may initially seem like a story we’ve seen before, in which a withdrawn newcomer is tempted to come out of her shell by a budding friendship with a more outgoing peer – and “A Room of my Own” is also this story – it’s also a lot of other cooler things. No less a showcase for two exceptional actors who embody characters that are exceptionally well-drawn as individuals, but who sparkle to ever-living life in each other’s presence.

Once Tina’s useless boyfriend shows up to announce that they won’t be moving in together after all, the dynamic between Megi and Tina begins to change. They bond erratically, during the nights that see them hitting the throbbing underground clubs and deserted streets after the pandemic-awed Tbilisi curfew, but more often find them cooped up in their living rooms, getting drunk or getting high, or suffering from the disease after-effects of drunkenness or high. Somewhere along the way, their relationship takes on a sexual dimension whose importance is neither overplayed nor underestimated. Like the occasional pandemic context of masks and curfews and even a crucial Covid death, it just is.

There’s something of Claudia Weill’s “Girlfriends” vibe here – the resourceful, radically intimate feel of a 1970s New York indie. that Bliadze’s imperceptible editing, which allows scenes to flow together like moods, changes in tone occurring as naturally as changes in weather, have a modern, muted sheen. This levity belies the precision of Bliadze and Mumladze’s economic storyline, which conceals its construction so well that it seems semi-improvised, but can make a curiously momentous drama out of a drunken confession on a sofa, or a mouthful reproach of wood about a flooded bathtub.

It’s gratifying to see a male director/co-writer and a male DP shoot in a female-fronted film so completely cleansed of the male gaze. But Bliadze’s approach here comes across as a true collaboration with his co-writer and lead actress, notable for the way he strays from the actors who are in complete control of their performances, and the characters he clearly admires and loves. Given that his feature debut ‘Otar’s Death’ – an escape from Karlovy Vary last year – suffered a bit from over-determination, it seems this story of liberation has also liberated Bliadze’s cinema. What could easily have been a hastily cobbled together, crown-restricted quickie instead becomes a satisfying relationship drama and a herald of a gifted and generous new directorial voice on Georgia’s burgeoning arthouse scene.

“A Room of my Own” is too modest in scale to mark a major boundary-breaking moment for the Georgian millennial woman. But then its battle lines are not drawn against external societal enemies. Instead, the film is about defeating the internalized demons of misogyny that so many of us carry unrecognized into the most chilling chambers of our hearts. As it ends on a gently upbeat note that plays like a weight you didn’t even notice suddenly lifting off your shoulders, it suggests it’s a battle that’s in our power, as women, together, to win.

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