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A middle-aged shopkeeper questions her independent life when she falls for a delivery driver.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Elene Naveriani

Starring: Eka Chavleishvili,  Temiko Chichinadze, Pikria Nikabadze, Anka Khurtsidze, Tamar Mdinaradze, Lia Abuladze

Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry poster

Etero (Eka Chavleishvili), the 48-year-old protagonist of this quiet Georgian drama from director Elene Naveriani, has quite the dramatic beginning to her day. In the opening scene she survives a near death fall into a ravine when the ground collapses beneath her feet as she picks blackberries. Later that morning Etero opens her shop and seduces married delivery driver Murman (Temiko Chinchinadze) into a sweaty shag on the shop floor, an act prompted no doubt by the adrenaline rush of having almost met her maker.

Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry review

We quickly learn this is a decidedly atypical morning in Etero's undramatic existence. Far from sexually voracious, Etero has remained a virgin prior to her encounter with Murman. Her day to day life consists of running her sparsely filled shop, eating her favourite cakes and hanging out with neighbours who belittle her with jibes about her spinster status. Once a week she takes a trip to a nearby town, where she likes to hang out in a cafe run by a young lesbian couple, whose progressive outlook provides relief from the judgemental attitudes of the women of her village.

Etero argues with such women that she's quite happy with her single status, but they aren't buying it. For the first time in her life it seems Etero may be doubting herself. Initially ignoring Murman's invitations, Etero plunges herself into an affair, meeting him on secluded forest roads and in motels in town, where receptionists smirk at the couple's insistence on "two single beds," knowing all too well that they'll be pushed together as soon as the lovers enter their room.

Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry review

The influence of Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki appears to be writ large on Naveriani's second feature. It has the same dry humour, the same collection of glum faces that occasionally crack into smiles, sometimes as a result of cruel mocking. It even shares Kaurismaki's penchant for offsetting his dramatic drabness against a colourful production design. Every wall in Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry is painted a blinding colour, as though the women of this village are desperate to bring some brightness into their lives. They even insist on dying their hair the same unconventional shades, and wear similarly bright outfits.

The costume design cleverly makes Etero stand out as someone who either doesn't care about her appearance or purposely dresses in muted outfits to reinforce her insistence that she isn't looking to snare a man. At least at first. The more she gives in to her feelings for Murman, the more colourful her wardrobe becomes. The costumes tell us more about Etero's true feelings than any of her words, which can't be trusted. Chavleishvili's performance is simultaneously alive and closed, forcing us to work hard to figure out what Etero really wants from her life. We're not sure if she really knows herself, and there's a sense that Etero's lack of romantic experience is clouding her judgement. When Murman plays a French chanson on the car radio as they drive to a motel, Etero smiles, clearly impressed at what we suspect is a cynical, rehearsed gesture on her married lover's part.

Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry review

There's enough ambiguity in Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry to allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions about whether Etero is finally being liberated by her late life romance or if she's betraying her belief in enjoying life without a man. The movie ends with Etero reacting to a life-changing piece of news in a fashion that leaves us guessing as to how she intends to continue, and while Chavleishvili's challenging performance refuses to give us any answers, we know things will never be the same for Etero now that her berry has been picked from the comfort of its vine.

Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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