Georgian society has been living with ready-made schemes tested and verified by generations for a long time; the schemes precisely determined how you should look at what age, what you should be interested in, what you should strive for and what duties you should have. These unwritten scheme-laws are especially ruthless towards women, whose life path is strictly determined by age. Almost every unmarried woman over 30 is familiar with the feeling when one day she discovers that she is slowly falling out of this usual pattern, can no longer live up to the expectations of her loved ones, and becomes a kind of secondary, written-off member of society.
Everything starts with questions and advice: "Don’t you get married?" What are you waiting for?" "Okay now, turn a blind eye to some things and take a step, there is no such thing as a good husband," "Time runs out, don’t want to have a child?", "Hurry up, otherwise it will be too late". All this is expressed with a slightly screwed up gaze, mostly with fake sympathy and good wishes, and everything is done to make the woman feel her own inferiority and inadequacy. Most of the questions are again asked by women who may have been in failed marriages themselves, living in lies and abuse, but still felt superior because they didn't fall out of the scheme.
These scheme-laws apply especially strictly in the Georgian periphery, in such lives Etero, the main character of Tamta Melashvili's novel and Elene Naveriani's film, "Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry" (2023).
At first glance, Etero is a typical Georgian spinster. 48 years in the life of an unmarried woman is the age when the people around her and, most importantly, she herself has long given up. Etero is even luckier than others because she has her own store, where she sells cheap perfumes and detergents, which is a guarantee of a carefree life in old age. She subdued her desires and aspirations and adjusted her life to the size and shape acceptable to the society. The only pleasure that Etero allows herself is once a month, when she comes to Terjola to pick up new goods, she goes into a cafe, orders a milky coffee, a cake “Napoleon” and enjoys that magical moment when her time is only hers alone and she no longer cares what Nano, Keto or any other neighbor will say about such "insolence."
In the reality devoid of aspirations and in lonely nights, Etero is able to think that at least in old age, already financially secure, she will be able to live as she wants. Until one day gone to collect blackberries by the river she miraculously escaped death. This will turn out to be the decisive moment in Etero's considered life, which will make her take unexpected steps even for herself.
Screen adaptation is generally a difficult task, especially for a novel that has been published only recently and which has caused quite a stir due to its bold vocabulary and violation of certain taboos.
Tamta Melashvili's novel is the main character’s entirely internal monologue, it is through Etero's thoughts and evaluations that we perceive her life, village, neighbors and unexpected love. The director of the film, Elene Naveriani, faced a not so simple task – to visualize Etero's thoughts and memories, which was made possible, first of all, by the performance of the main character, Eka Chavleishvili
Almost throughout the novel, the reader hears Etero's fears – that someone will not understand her true thoughts and feelings, that they will not notice that she has taken care of her appearance more than usual, that they will not see her going to meet her lover, and that she will not notice the expression on her face when she remembers the moments of intimacy with the desired man. Eka Chavleishvili convincingly manages to convey this constant tension and fearful self-control that has become a habit. Her movie character is always frowned, she seems to constantly feel someone's gaze behind her back, she looks here and there in fear, subdues her emotions and does not allow her facial features to express joy.
There are some other interesting visual solutions to Etero's thoughts and motivational moments in the film. After a fateful episode of blackberry picking, a knee-grazed woman walking home imagines what would happen when the river washed away her corpse, what her villagers would say about her and her life. It is this fear of death that makes her feel that she has never lived before and finds a woman who has already come to terms with her fate in the arms of a store distributor. The visual transformation of Etero's fears is the arrival of a deceased brother or father in a woman's dreams, whose portraits she does not dare to remove from the wall, because honoring the memory of the deceased in her space is more important than continuing life.
Elene Naveriani's film presents the existence of the Georgian province in a rather unadorned way – poverty, monotony, emptiness and filling this emptiness with drinking, fighting and discussing each other's lives.
Neighbors don't forget to remind Etero every time about her age, weight or social status and thus justify her unfulfilling life in their own eyes. So what if the husband cheats and spends all his days in idleness and laziness with the men of the village; so what if every young, free woman is envious, not just jealous, but even hates her; so what if his son is so pampered that he can't even take off his socks on his own. Instead, she, as a woman, has fulfilled her own mission in the eyes of society, and it doesn't matter that she no longer remembers, or perhaps never thought about, what she herself wanted.
But the existence of modern Georgian village and the role of women in this existence is presented even more sadly in Tamta Melashvili's novel. In her painful memories, Etero often returns to the important stages of her life: growing up alone, without a mother and without love, relationships with her father or brother and the premature duties of taking care of them, which first took away her childhood, and then, practically, her own life. Etero's thoughts and memories also concern the women living around her, their pains, suppressed femininity and coming to terms with fate. All this, to some extent, detracted from the film. Of course, it is difficult to completely convey the literary text on the screen, but highlighting these extremely important accents would more fully convey the reverses of fate of women living in small villages and towns of modern Georgia. Behind Etero’s character, the adventures and voices of many women would be heard – those who were forcibly married at a young age, who lived without love, who gave up on their dreams. It was possible to do this, even in the conversations of the women of the hetero neighbors, where there seem to be some hints, but these individual phrases still cannot create a complete picture, cannot express the depth and variety of the problem.
Another taboo topic that Tamta Melashvili's novel and Elene Naveriani's film deal with is female sexuality. According to the same scheme-laws adopted in Georgian society, a woman only allows a man, and she herself cannot feel or want anything, moreover, what desires should bother a 48-year-old spinster, who herself does not remember her own femininity, and the people around her constantly remind her about the upcoming menopause.
For Georgian cinema, Elene Naveriani’s film is distinguished by quite daring scenes, which our national cinema does not really have a tradition of. These are not aesthetic episodes saturated with sensuality, shot with appropriate lighting and music, with partners in perfect physical shape. These are quite naturalistic shots, which required a lot of courage and professionalism from the actors, so that everything did not turn into obscenity. It should be noted that the actors playing the main roles coped very well with this task.
In the Georgian cinema of recent years, women's problems are quite actively presented. Often, it is female directors who make films about women and, especially, about the representatives of that generation for whom the schemes established in Georgian society have become an integral and natural part of life. But in modern Georgian cinema, women who live constantly in consideration of public opinion rebel against themselves and fate, try to free themselves from their duties and focus on their own desires.
The heroine of Elene Naverian's film is a kind of generalized face of many similar ethereal women, the image of all those Georgian women who never dared to live and spent a lot of time adjusting themselves to self-absorbed molds. Tamta Melashvili and Elene Naveriani’s Etero is still special – the authors give her a chance to win. At the end of the film, a kind of miracle happens – the fear of death, which followed the main character almost throughout the film and pushed her to action, ultimately turns into a victory of life and hope.