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CANNES 2023 Directors' Fortnight

Elene Naveriani • Director of Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry

“I hope her character is empowering for others”


- CANNES 2023: The Swiss-based director with Georgian origins speaks about their portrait of a mature woman that knows what she wants

Elene Naveriani  • Director of Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry
(© Khatia (Juda) Psuturi)

Elene Naveriani presented their feature film Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry [+see also:
film review
interview: Elene Naveriani
film profile
in the Directors’ Fortnight section of this year's Cannes Film Festival. The director talks about their main protagonist and the empowerment of women also at an older age.

Cineuropa: Again, as in your previous film, you set the story in rural Georgia. Why was this important?
Elene Naveriani:
If you get farther and farther away from the city, society gets more rigid, more closed. It's like this everywhere. Things are kept in a kind of archetypical way. I think it was important for me to find that, and set the story outside a more urban setting. What interested me was to find a miniaturized society, a society on a smaller scale. I wanted to put the characters in a small village and create this micro-society that resonates with other places.

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Where did you find your inspiration to develop the main protagonist?
The inspiration comes from a novel, written by Georgian feminist Tamta Melashvili. I read the book right after it was published. From the first page I thought that it was very powerful, about a very empowering character. I like that the protagonist is of a certain age. Moreover, I thought that people are able to identify with her life. She lives in a society with oppression, where you can't always be the person you want to be. Her surroundings don't allow her to flourish like she would like to. I felt that Etero has a contradiction in her, since she is very intelligent, very intuitive, like a “natural feminist”, but still surrenders to what the outside expects from her. At the end she can break through. She made it, she went back to something she loves, to her freedom, her identity, her body, gesture, her age. For me, she is actually somebody who made it in society. I wanted to take her from the novel and give her some flesh. For me she is an icon. She has a strength, nobody can define, even though she is some king pillar in the village, having a relationship with everyone through every generation.

How did you know that Eka Chavleishvili was the best fit for the role?
From the first word I read of the novel. I worked with Eka already in my previous film Wet Sand [+see also:
film review
interview: Elene Naveriani
film profile
, where she has a tinier role. So, I knew her and I felt we have the same heartbeat. I thought the book has been written for her. Of course, this conviction helped me a lot while writing the script of the film, because I could constantly and easily relate to her.

Why is sexuality a symbol of freedom?
What is interesting is that in this kind of society in which the story is set, the sexuality of women of a certain age seems as if it doesn't exist anymore. With age and beauty women tend to disappear. I wanted to give her this stage. Sexual desire is something that is constantly following us, and Etero liberates herself through it. She gets back to her core, thinking “I have not been doing this, because of some fear, but I need to, actually”. This is what I wanted to put in the spotlight. I hope her character is empowering for others.

How did you find the visuals to express that? How much could you rely on the book for it?
The novel is written in the first-person perspective, she is having a monologue. The story plays with flashbacks to tell you about her background. I didn't want to do that for the movie, I wanted to focus on the present. There are some very tangible, very strong descriptions, how she felt about her experiences. That helped me to understand how she feels and to put that into images. All the sex scenes are constructed, none of them exist in the book. It was very interesting and very complex. What was important for me was to be able to tell something about society without it being too straight forward.

In Wet Sand music is a very important element. In this film also. Can you talk more about your sound design concept?
It's a huge preliminary work we do together, my sound designer and I. I always have a soundtrack for every scene in my mind when I write. The music helps me to construct the character. It articulates the point of the story. I only used Georgian songs.

How do you feel about the funding situation of your films in Switzerland?
I am extremely embraced by the place where I live. My films are well supported. Of course, it's challenging to find financing, it's something that it's not obvious. But so far so good. I am extremely happy that there are people who support me. It's a huge opportunity and a big privilege for me that I have been given this chance to do these films. It's also a big responsibility to represent something that is also part of Switzerland.

Would you think it would have been more difficult to get the funding for the film if you were based in Georgia?
For more political stuff it's very difficult to get it made in Georgia. Films are very hard to finance and have to face a strong censorship. It's not easy with the government in power. It's actually catastrophic what is happening. I wish filmmakers in Georgia could have a proper financing system, because there are a lot of people struggling.

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