×

‘A Room of My Own’ Review: A Deceptively Potent Portrait of Female Friendship in Covid-Era Georgia

Two Tbilisi roommates form a liberating bond in Ioseb Bliadze's sublimely understated snapshot of a Georgian generation in gentle crisis.

A Room of My Own
Courtesy of Karlovy Vary Film Festival

With eternal respect to Virginia Woolf, whose “A Room of One’s Own” clearly inspires the title of Ioseb “Soso” Bliadze’s beautifully articulate miniature, even before a woman needs money and her own space to be able to pursue self-fulfillment, she needs to know she needs those things. Bliadze’s superbly performed, remarkably immersive Karlovy Vary competition entry is one such story of tentative, interior emancipation, described in the tiniest arcs of change: the width of a smile, the warmth of an embrace, the directness of a gaze. As such, it is hardly cinema’s most tempestuous act of female empowerment, but the work of dismantling oppressive patriarchies, such as that which underpins modern-day Georgian society, needs both sledgehammers and subtler 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 worldly party girl Megi (Mariam Khundadze), and her newly arrived roommate Tina (Taki Mumladze, also, crucially, the film’s co-writer). This is not a lot of money, but delivering it all upfront is a challenge for Tina, a jobless out-of-towner merely biding her time for a month or so until her boyfriend arrives and they can move in together.

The money and the shortness of Tina’s projected stay are early sources of friction between the two twentysomething women, who are little more than mutually suspicious/dismissive strangers suddenly thrust into close proximity. Their initial interactions are stilted, with Tina mostly sitting in her darkened room, the scowl on her face lit by the screen of her phone while Megi brings back an ever-revolving circle of friends and lovers to drink homemade hooch, smoke spliffs and play tubthumping dance music so loud it practically buckles the thin walls.

But both young women have their secrets and their mysteries. Megi, who struts around the apartment nonchalantly naked after showering and plans to leave “this fucking country” as soon as her US visa comes through, has a tendency to lose consciousness in moments of high stress. Tina has a sloping, angry red scar running across her back and, already at 25, an ex-husband whose mother calls her a “slut” on the phone. So while this might initially seem a story we’ve seen before, in which a withdrawn newcomer is tempted out of her shell by a burgeoning friendship with a more outgoing peer — and “A Room of my Ownis also that story — it is many other, fresher things as well. Not least a showcase for two outstanding actors embodying characters who are exceptionally well drawn as individuals, but who flicker to ever more vivid life in each other’s presence.

Once Tina’s useless boyfriend shows up to break the news that they will not be moving in together after all, the dynamic between Megi and Tina starts to change. They bond erratically, during nights that see them take to the pulsing underground clubs and deserted post-curfew streets of pandemic-cowed Tbilisi, but that more often find them holed up in their living room, getting drunk or getting high, or blearily suffering the after-effects of getting drunk or high. Somewhere along the way their relationship takes on a sexual dimension, the importance of which is neither overplayed nor underestimated. Like the casual pandemic backdrop of masks and curfews and even a pivotal COVID death, it simply is.

There is something of the vibe of Claudia Weill’s “Girlfriends” here — the resourceful, radically intimate feel of a 1970s New York indie. But there’s a buffed-down modern sheen to DP Dimitri Dakanosidze’s attentive, unerring handheld camerawork, as well as to Bliadze’s imperceptible editing, which allows scenes to flow into one another like moods, tone shifts occurring as naturally as changes in the weather. This airiness belies the precision of Bliadze and Mumladze’s economical script, which hides its construction so well that it feels semi-improvised, yet can make curiously momentous drama out of a drunken confession on a sofa, or a hungover reproach about a flooded bathtub.

It is gratifying to see a male director and a male DP turn in a female-fronted film so entirely scrubbed of the male gaze. But Bliadze’s approach here appears to be a true collaboration with his co-writer and leading lady, remarkable for how he gets out of the way of actors entirely in command of their performances, and of characters he clearly admires and loves. Given that his first feature “Otar’s Death” — a Karlovy Vary breakout last year — suffered a little from overdetermination, it appears this story of liberation has set Bliadze’s filmmaking free too. What could easily have been a hastily cobbled-together, corona-restricted quickie instead becomes a resonantly satisfying relationship drama, and a herald of a gifted, generous new directorial voice on the thriving Georgian arthouse scene.

“A Room of my Own” is too modest in scale to mark some major boundary-pushing moment for millennial Georgian womanhood. But then its battle lines are not drawn against external societal enemies. Instead, the film is about conquering the internalized demons of misogyny that so many of us carry unacknowledged in the more fearful chambers of our hearts. As it closes on a gently optimistic note that plays like a weight you hadn’t even noticed suddenly lifting from your shoulders, it suggests this is one battle it is in our power, as women, together, to win.

‘A Room of My Own’ Review: A Deceptively Potent Portrait of Female Friendship in Covid-Era Georgia

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Competition), July 4, 2022. Running time: 107 MIN. (Original title: "Chemi otakhi")

  • Production: (Georgia-Germany) A Maisis Peri, Color of May production. (World sales: Color of May, Cologne.) Producers: Eva Blondiau, Ioseb "Soso" Bliadze, Elmar Imanov.
  • Crew: Director, editor: Ioseb "Soso" Bliadze. Screenplay: Bliadze, Taki Mumladze. Camera: Dimitri Dekanosidze. Music: Beka Ungiadze.
  • With: Taki Mumladze, Mariam Khundadze, Sophio Zeragia, Lashao Gabunia, Giorgi Tsereteli, Ioseb “Soso” Bliadze. (Georgian dialogue)