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Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry By Lillian Crawford

In Wallace Stevens’s poem ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’, he plays on the imagery of what a blackbird can be. The first canto: “Among twenty snowy mountains, / The only moving thing / Was the eye of the blackbird.” As shopkeeper Etero (Eka Chavleishvili) wanders along the edge of a ravine near her remote Georgian village, she too appears to be the only moving thing until she spies a blackbird in a blackberry bush. The title of Elene Naveriani’s film is Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry, a concatenation of poetic images which move from the ominous to the succulent. 

When Etero appears on screen, we know nothing about her. We are faced with our prejudices and assumptions when looking at middle-aged womanhood, formed not least by portrayals of older women in cinema. Think of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining or Ti West’s X—she, and her sexuality, are to be feared, the object of our repulsion. Naveriani sees how bodily shame has been internalised by women, and subverts it—Etero is at the centre of her film, her being presented in as many ways or more of looking at a blackbird. Stevens’s seventh canto: “O thin men of Haddam, / Why do you imagine golden birds? / Do you not see how the blackbird / Walks around the feet / Of the women about you?”

Etero is not passing the ravine on the hunt for blackbirds, but blackberries. She is about to take a bite of a particularly ripe fruit when she sees the blackbird, pauses, and then as she goes to put it in her mouth again, the ground gives way and she tumbles down the cliff. In Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Blackberrying’, she writes, “A last hook brings me / To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock / That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space / Of white and pewter lights”. As Etero walks home, she pictures her body in the mud at the bottom of the ravine being turned over by neighbours, dead. Like the fig tree in Plath’s The Bell Jar, Etero sees multiple futures before her. 

The blackberry is the final berry to ripen in the summer. Its bittersweetness heralds the going of the sun and the shortening of days, the last rise before the Fall. Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Blackberry-Picking’ begins: “Late August, given heavy rain and sun / For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.” Etero has abstained from sex all her 48-year life. In a tongue-in-cheek twist on a classic porno set-up, she allows her thirst to at last be quenched by her delivery driver, Murman (Temiko Chichinadze), on the floor of her storecupboard. When the blackberries eventually arrive, we tear at the plump fruit with teeth, “Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for / Picking.” Despite the marks of time on her face and body, Etero’s sense of sensual self is fresh and raw. 

At the end of the poem Heaney’s imagery grows sour. After hoarding the blackberries, they soon begin to rot: “Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.” Etero seems brighter, more radiant. Of the blackbird she says, “It woke me up. Made me feel alive.” But there is a sense that this is a transient thing, a beauty that has come too late and will not last forever. A man cruelly asks if she has become a “whore”, cutting to Etero in a dingy bathroom removing her underwear and using a sponge to wash herself: ‘a whore’s bath’. It is reminiscent of similar washes taken by Jeanne Dielman in Chantal Akerman’s film, another feminist framing of a single woman who harnesses her sexuality. Like Jeanne, Etero is frequently framed by Naveriani in a melancholic green light, casting a sense of unease over her life’s change of course. Despite not being yet 50, Etero fears her life is nearing its end: the hot flashes she experiences which her friends ascribe to menopause trigger an anxiety that she has the same disease that killed her mother.

There is injustice to the latency of Etero’s blossoming, the sting of the blackberry when it finally darkens on the bush. It is not as simple as viewing Etero as the blackberry and Murman as her blackbird—Stevens’s fourth canto: “A man and a woman / Are one. / A man and a woman and a blackbird / Are one.” That second “blackbird” in the title blurs the lines between the images of the symbols, calling to mind the lyrics of the Lenon-McCartney song: “Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly”. Etero has been waiting all her life for this moment to arise, but her liberty comes with a sharp aftertaste. But at least before the end, she can say that she lived.

Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry is out in cinemas from 3 May across the UK, courtesy of New Wave Films.

Check HERE to find a cinema near you.



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