When director Elene Naveriani first read the book upon which “Blackbird Blackbird Blueberry” is based, they immediately recognized a whole community. “It was the story of my mom, the story of my aunt, the story of my neighbor,” Naveriani tells Variety. “I could name so many women around me that they were really going through the same interior kind of struggle, and I found it very important to bring this character to life on screen.”
Playing in Directors’ Fortnight, “Blackbird Blackbird Blueberry” follows 48-year-old Etero (Eka Chavleishvili – the filmmaker’s first and only choice for the character) as she discovers her sexuality and enters into her first relationship later in life. In the film’s startling opening sequence, shopkeeper Etero survives a brush with death, returns to her small corner store, and seduces the first man who walks in – having her initial sexual relation on a momentary whim.
Though Etero’s case is a case more of an outlier, the emotional baseline is certainly shared by all. “We all imagined ourselves dying, wondering how it will happen,” says Naveriani. “And sometimes you get to this edge where you realize you cannot go on with your routine. And something kind of shows that it’s time to switch, and time to change.”
In Etero’s case, she begins a clandestine relationship with that first man who walked in, the amiable deliveryman Murman (Temiko Chinchinadze), while reappraising and taking stock of her own ambitions as the next chapter of her life opens. In that sense, the film is interested in both the sensual and spiritual aspects of a woman discovering herself anew.
“Our bodies may transform over time and we notice,” says Naveriani. “But Etero’s real change is finding peace with herself and her desire, understanding what she wants and how she wants it. It’s this journey of accepting and embracing oneself, and I think that’s the character’s life goal, something she’s done intuitively ever since she born.”
Of course, Etero is also a social creature; she is a touchstone of her small Georgian village and a source of bemusement for her child-rearing neighbors. “They see her as a lost cause,” says the filmmaker. “But deep down, everyone wants to be like her, because she’s made her own choices in life, and they have not. And in this kind of Georgian society, cruelty can be a defense.”
“She has her own personal relationship with this place she grew up, this place she loves, [and thus] can see beyond this cruelty,” Naveriani continues. “I can identify with this kind of love-hate feeling. You can love your hometown without feeling totally a part it, belonging and not belonging, and find a kind of hidden beauty [just for you.]”
The third feature from Naveriani, whose “Wet Sand,” won a best actor plaudit at Locarno, “Blackbird Blackbird Blueberry,” is produced by Thomas Reichlin and Britta Rindelaub of Geneva-based Alva Film, behind Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “Hive,” and Ketie Danelia of Takes Film, which produced Levan Akin’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight player “And Then We Danced.”
Paris-based Totem Films handles international sales on “Blackbird Blackbird Blueberry.”
Looking ahead, Naveriani will next tackle the story of Saint Nino – a 3rd century apostle credited with bringing Christianity to Georgia – while transposing the narrative to the present day. Though early in the offing, the project will no doubt adhere to Naveriani’s wider filmmaking ethos.
“When I watch a film I like to have an equal space with the context and the character,” they explain. “And I like having the choice of what I’m going to look at and what I’m going to feel, that it’s not really directed or forced. And that’s also how I approach my own the stories; it shapes what I write and how I film.”
Elene Naveriani, Director of Directors’ Fortnight Title ‘Blackbird Blackbird Blueberry,’ Charts a Woman’s Inner Growth