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“A Room of My Own” review: Superb, searching Georgian friendship drama

“A Room of My Own” review: Superb, searching Georgian friendship drama

With eternal respect for Virginia Woolf, whose “A Room of One’s Own” clearly inspires the title of Ioseb ‘Soso’ Bliadze’s beautifully articulated miniature, even before a woman needs money and her own room to pursue self-fulfillment, she needs to know that she need these things. Bliadze’s superbly performed, remarkably immersive Karlovy Vary competition entry is such a story of tentative, inner liberation, described in the smallest arcs of change: the breadth of a smile, the warmth of an embrace, the directness of a glance. As such, it is hardly the cinema’s most stormy act of female empowerment, but the work of dismantling oppressive patriarchies, such as that which underlies modern Georgian society, needs both sledgehammer and subtle instruments.

The room in question is a poky box at the back of a narrow two-bedroom apartment in Tbilisi. The rent is 600 lari (about $ 200) per month, to be shared equally between the worldly party girl Megi (Mariam Khundadze) and her newly arrived roommate Tina (Taki Mumladze, also, crucially, the film’s co-author). This is not a lot of money, but delivering everything in advance is a challenge for Tina, an unemployed out of town who only offers time for a month or so until her boyfriend arrives and they can move in together.

The money and brevity of Tina’s expected stay are early sources of friction between the two twenty women, who are little more than mutually suspicious / repulsive strangers who are suddenly thrown into the vicinity. Their first interactions are stilted, with Tina mostly sitting in her darkened room, the look on her face lit by the screen of her phone while Megi brings back an ever-rotating circle of friends and lovers to drink homemade hooch, smoke spliffs and play tubthumping dance music so loud that it practically stretches the thin walls.

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But both young women have their secrets and mysteries. Megi, who struts around the apartment nonchalantly naked after showering and plans to leave “this fucking country” as soon as her American visa comes through, tends to lose consciousness in moments of high stress. Tina has a sloping, angry red scar that runs over her back and already as a 25-year-old an ex-husband whose mother calls her a “slut” on the phone. So while this may at first seem like a story we’ve seen before, where a withdrawn newcomer is tempted out of her shell by a budding friendship with a more outgoing peer – and “A Room of my Own” is also that story – there are many other, fresher things too. Not least a showcase for two outstanding actors who embody characters who are exceptionally well drawn as individuals, but who flicker to increasingly alive lives in each other’s presence.

When Tina’s useless boyfriend shows up to bring the news that they are not going to move in together after all, the dynamic between Megi and Tina begins to change. They bind themselves erratically, during nights that see them go to the pulsating underground clubs and deserted streets after the curfew in the pandemic-caged Tbilisi, but who more often find themselves trapped in the living room, get drunk or debris, or suffer from it. after-effects of getting drunk or high. Somewhere along the way, their relationship takes on a sexual dimension, where the importance is neither overplayed nor underestimated. Like the random pandemic backdrop with masks and curfews and even a central Covid death, it’s quite simple.

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That’s part of the mood of Claudia Weill’s “Girlfriends” here – the resourceful, radically intimate feel of a 1970s New York indie. But there is a polished modern brilliance to DP Dimitri Dakanosidze’s attentive, flawless handheld camera work, as well as to Bliadze’s imperceptible editing, which allows scenes to flow into each other as moods, tone changes occur as naturally as changes in the weather. This airiness contradicts the precision of Bliadze and Mumladze’s economic script, which hides the construction so well that it feels semi-improvised, yet can make a strangely significant drama out of a drunken confession on a couch, or a hungover accusation of a flooded bathtub.

It’s gratifying to see a male director / co-writer and a male DP turn in a film with female fronts so completely cleansed of the male gaze. But Bliadze’s approach here seems to be a real collaboration with his co-author and lead lady, remarkable for how he gets out of the way of actors who completely control their performances, and characters he clearly admires and loves. Given that his first feature film “Otar’s Death” – an outburst in Karlovy Vary last year – suffered a bit of over-determination, it seems that this story of liberation has also set Bliadze’s filmmaking free. What could easily have been a quick cobblestone-coated, corona-limited quickie, instead becomes a resonantly satisfying relationship drama, and one announces a gifted, generous new director’s voice on the thriving Georgian arthouse scene.

“A Room of my Own” is too modest in scale to mark a major frontier-pressing moment for millennial Georgian femininity. But then its battle lines are not drawn against external enemies of society. Instead, the film is about conquering the internalized demons of misogyny that so many of us carry unknown in the more terrible chambers of our hearts. When it ends on a cautiously optimistic tone that plays like a weight you had not even noticed suddenly lifting from your shoulders, it suggests that this is a battle it is in our power, as women, together, to win.

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