I was born in Georgia and brought up to value a position of social withdrawal. As a woman, this meant I had to stand back, listen passively and make myself invisible. And – above all – I had to be content with this place I was assigned.
After leaving Georgia at the age of 23, I discovered new personal and artistic spaces where I could develop my voice. At first, I struggled to free myself from my past. I needed to rebuild as a new person, one that would hear her own voice, one that would be defined by herself. It was, and still is, an arduous process to unlearn this education that haunts me. One thing that always helped me is cinema and storytelling. This is where I look to find or create role models that I am missing in life.
In my films, I try to make invisible stories visible, to make unheard voices heard and to create a space for marginalised lives. My practice is above all a language of resistance in the face of denial and oblivion.
In the spring of 2021, I read Tamta Melashvili’s newly published novel BLACKBIRD BLACKBIRD BLACKBERRY. Her work often focuses on women and relentlessly challenges the heteronormative patriarchal structure of society. With her elegant approach to storytelling, Tamta masterfully contextualises her characters’ psycho-socio-political realities. She writes powerfully subversive stories while portraying them with all their delicate nuances. The novel speaks to me personally and politically; and it fits my filmmaking practice.
The main character, Etero, is a feminist in her own way – without even realising it. She struggles in her present with painful experiences that she has endured in her past. She was always invisible, but since the death of her brother and her father she has somehow rebuilt herself. She has guided her life away from men. She runs a household supply store with products she knows only women would buy. She leads a simple but fiercely independent life. Every day she wins a small revolution by confronting the role people try to assign to her. Her aim isn’t to revolutionise the world, she only looks forward to her retirement when, with her hard-earned money, she will not need to serve anyone. She is happy with a humble life of routine.
The novel is written in the first person singular. I wanted to keep this intimacy with the character in my adaptation, because Etero’s humble life carries a truly universal dimension. Etero embodies the voice in every one of us, whatever our gender, that wishes to emancipate from a sexist society and culture. This universality is also echoed in other characters like Etero’s lover, who is himself trapped within the social construct of patriarchy, where he needs to perform his role but at the same time suffers from it.
Etero is a rich and complex character: what she does and what she says in public, she refuses and hates inside her home. She lives a double life. She fears judgement but on the other hand she doesn’t care about what others think. Etero is as an instinctive feminist, through many years of experience that gave her a strong intuition of how to behave to be able to be independent.
All of Etero’s careful world order crashes with the arrival of Murman. At the age of 49, she has her first sexual relationship. She has been single all her life and he is a married man. Despite the risks, Etero’s instinct tells her to move onward, as this relationship makes her experience new emotion and sensations. The discovery of sexuality in old age is also something that attracted me to this story. Body and sexuality are an important part of Etero’s character. She jumps headfirst into the pleasures of sexuality, without any shame or limit. She does something other women would never dare and she knows it.
Thus, body, politics and sexuality also play a big part in this film. Culturally and socially, as women age, their bodies are considered ‘out of date’ in contrast to younger bodies that are commodified by heteronormative patriarchal culture. Etero carries her slightly overweight and curvy body with confidence. She doesn’t let herself be affected by conventional beauty standards. She feels attractive. Her conviction is first and foremost personal, but her stance is truly revolutionary. Etero’s every movement saturated with sexual tension. I wanted to portray her just so, because Etero’s sexuality and body are what is missing from the screen.
The DOP Agnesh Pakozdi and I share a precise visual language that is a key ingredient to my films. We have worked together on all my previous fiction films, short and long. I wanted our cinematography to reveal the story in a cautious and sensitive way. The camera takes a step back from the characters. The body and its gestures are very important to me: postures, little movements and gazes are the keys to a character’s soul. I believe in a film language that gives space to the spectator’s reflection. I would like the emotions of my films to be experienced and not dictated.
We needed to film the bodies that are usually absent from the screen. We paid great attention to show them with sympathy, tenderness and to emphasize their textures to create the necessary intimacy and erotic tension needed for the narrative.
It was clear to me that Eka Chavleishvili was an actress who could play the character of Etero. I worked with Eka on my last film, "Wet Sand". Her rigor, her sensitivity and her approach to acting fascinated me. When I imagined that we would watch Etero for 90 minutes, having Eka play the role, with her charisma and captivating presence, it seemed an obvious choice to me. With Eka and her professionalism, I couldn't imagine putting a less subtle, sensitive and powerful personality next to her.
Cast & Crew
Directed by: Elene Naveriani
Written by: Elene Naveriani, Nikoloz Mdivani, Tamta Mekashvili
Main Producer: Thomas Reichlin, Ketie Danelia, Britta Rindelaub
Cinematography: Agnesh Pakozdi
Editing: Aurora Franco Vögeli
Production Design: Teo Baramidze
Costume Design: Nino Injia
Make-Up & Hair: Julia Nietlispach, Eka Chikhradze
Sound: Philippe Ciompi, Marc von Stürler, Tengiz Asitashvili, Tornike Dzidikashvili, Beqa Turashvili
Visual Effects: Romaric Vivier
Casting: Leli Miminoshvili, Shoka Maghradze
Cast: Eka Chavleishvili (Etero), Temiko Chichinadze (Murman)
Nominations and Awards
- Feature Film Selection 2023