“In our society, you have to be a nice girl. We are fighting to get rid of this mindset.
It is the impassioned appeal of Taki Mumladze, co-writer and co-director of A room of minethe Georgian drama competing this week in the main Crystal Globe competition at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF).
The film is the second in two years to launch at KVIFF for Georgian director Ioseb ‘Soso’ Bliadze, after Otar’s death last year, in which Mumladze had a supporting role.
A room of mine centers on Tina, a reserved young Georgian woman who moves into a roommate while waiting for her boyfriend to arrive in town. Her new roommate is a free spirit and Tina learns there’s more than one way to live her life.
The film was shot in the apartment in the Georgian capital Tbilisi where Mumladze and his co-leader Mariam Khundadze were living during the pandemic. Having taken eight years to bring Otar’s death to come to fruition, it was “a dream” for Bliadze that the new script would materialize in just three weeks.
Filming took place over 26 days of shooting spread over seven months starting in December 2020. While that schedule may send shivers down the spine of some filmmakers, it suited the unique lockdown situation. “It was less stressful, because we didn’t have a budget!” Blyadze said. “We were more flexible. Because of the pandemic, no one was shooting anything. So we could shoot six hours a day; if we didn’t like something, we did it again. FilterCritics describe the film as “one of the first dramatic features to successfully integrate the pandemic”.
Also produced Otar’s death, producers Eva Blondiau and Elmar Imanov of Color Of May in Germany arrived on board halfway through filming, when Bliadze showed them the first footage. “I was so blown away,” says Blondiau. “It was moving, authentic and told something important. I had to get involved to help them finish it.
The busy schedule posed challenges for the actors, to which they adapted. “We lived in this house, so it seemed like we weren’t leaving the set,” says Khundadze. “It felt like we were in the process all the time.”
“It was stressful for me; I was always thinking about what Tina’s body language would be like,” adds Mumladze. “I tried to live as she would live; sometimes I couldn’t stand it. But when we finished shooting, I was so used to it; sometimes I miss her!
Although Bliadze is the director, it’s clear that this was a collaborative film, with particular credit to Mumladze’s writing. “Taki said, ‘If you’re going to make a film about women, you might need me as your co-writer – I’ve got more experience than you!’ “, he recalls. “This film really touches on important issues that are happening in Georgia.” Among these are the restrictions imposed on women in what the director calls “a conservative and patriarchal society”.
“When I was thinking about the script, I always had this question: where is the place where we have the chance to live our own life, our feelings and our experience?” said Mumladze. “In our society – and not just there – you have to be a good girl, a lady.”
“We don’t even know what it is,” adds Khundadze. “We don’t have sex education [in Georgia]. Women don’t even know they have the freedom to choose, to explore sexuality or to live. You have a sense of guilt – that you are wrong. It’s very important to see this world for yourself – that’s what I like, that’s what I want, that’s what I need.
“This movie is primarily for Georgians,” says Bliadze. “We want to find all the Tinas in Georgia.”
There is also a resonance beyond these borders, which attracted Blondiau to the project. The main characters “represent a lot of women all over the world”, explains the producer. “Also in Germany, I face situations that make me angry, because I am a woman. Following the #MeToo movement, I have the right to be angry – and I am really angry, in fact!
The low-fi nature of the production meant that the sex scenes were shot like everything else, with only two or three people plus the actors on set, and no intimacy coordinator. “Soso told us, ‘If you don’t want to be naked, we can find another way’,” Mumladze said. “But it was our choice! It was very important for Georgian women and Georgian actresses to be free.
“[Taki and I] talked and decided how to do the sex scenes together, which was much safer,” says Khundadze. “I know her, we used to live together.”
Far-right protests against women’s liberation and LGBTQ are still common in Georgia, while Mumladze and Khundadze describe the government as “pro-Russian”. “They use their influence to stop us from progressing, to stop us from going to the EU and having that future,” Khundadze says.
The team believes this is leading to an exodus from the country, especially of young people and women. Khundadze lives and works in London – the film includes a cute joke about his crisp English accent – while Mumladze wants to move to the British capital. “It’s a big failure for everyone – our government, our parents’ generation,” says Bliadze. “Thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we still face the same problems, including Russian aggression and oppression. These kids are fed up – they want to live a normal life.
This begs the question – why stay connected to the country? “I love Georgia – I was born and raised here, I have my family here,” says Bliadze. “It’s hard to be an independent woman [in this society]but it’s worth it,” says Bliadze, and Khundadze adds, “it’s scary to make that kind of statement, but I think we should.”
“We said to ourselves that if we wanted to be free, we should do it,” adds Mumladze. “It’s a stage – we’re just starting to fight.”