One of the breakout hits of recent Georgian cinema, A Room of My Own is a quietly revolutionary take on female friendship and the passage to self-emancipation. Filmed during Covid lockdown on location in Tbilisi, the film stars co-writer Taki Mumladze as Tina, a shy young divorcee with a troubled past who finds herself unexpectedly forced into sharing a small apartment with brash, hard-partying Megi (Mariam Khundadze). This portrait of female agency – sexual, professional, and emotional – has added potency in a country like Georgia, where conservative gender politics remain entrenched. We spoke with Mumladze and Khundadze, alongside director Soso Bliadze, about turning their real lives into art, and the significance of their film both within Georgia and beyond.
Taki Mumladze and Mariam Khundadze in A Room of My Own (dir. Soso Bliadze, 2022)
Soso, how did you and Taki conceive this project? Was it conceived before lockdown, or was it a response to lockdown conditions?
Soso Bliadze: Eighty percent of this film is shot in this one apartment, and Mariam and Taki were really living there as roommates. When I saw this apartment, with two actors living there, it looked really cinematic… I got this idea, let’s make a film. Nobody had a job, we were all free. I told everybody, “Let’s just do it, without a budget. We’ve got nothing else to do.” It was a story about two girls living in one apartment, and Taki asked me if she could be the co-writer of the film, because she understands women better than me. Pre-production and production were very fast. In the beginning of December we started to write the script, and by the end of December we had already started to shoot. We had 26 shooting days over seven months. My first feature film [Otar’s Death, 2021], we worked on for nine years! Everything was very fast: editing, post-production, colour; while we’re doing the final sound mix, we get the notification that we are in the main competition in Karlovy Vary. Then two months later we were in Karlovy Vary, and it’s still going on, festival to festival since then, and we haven’t got bored yet.
Taki, can you tell us why you felt it was important for you not just to act in the film but also to write it, and how you and Soso approached the question of making a film about two young women?
Taki Mumladze: I’m a little bit bored of how men see female characters. Also, I really wanted to write a script. It was my first script, and [I thought] with Soso it would be easier than alone. It was a really great opportunity to write something. Also, this script was really important – me and Mariam talk about this a lot – it was really important [in terms of] having these young women characters.
What was it like when Soso said he was going to bring a film crew into your apartment for seven months? Did you need convincing?
Mariam Khundadze: It was so boring at that time, it was the pandemic, we were so uncertain about everything. And then Soso turned up and said: “OK, let’s do a short film.” We didn’t know that we would be shooting for seven months, or making a feature film – that would have seemed unrealistic, to be honest. He and Taki were like, “we’re just writing a few scenes”; then, “we should shoot something in a cemetery”; then, “we’re going to ask the mayor to give us permits to shoot during curfew…” So, we didn’t know at first. It was just an exciting thing: “oh, we’re going to have friends over at home.”
TM: There were actually three of us in the apartment, and the third girl wasn’t an actress. I think for her it was more difficult. She was working online, and we were always annoying her, with a lot of people in the house. She lost the house! So, I need to say thank you to her!
MK: We’d be shooting, and she would say, “sorry guys, but I need to go to the toilet…”
Georgia is quite conservative, women’s sexuality there is very repressed, and for us it was important to be free. We didn’t want to compromise
I hope she forgives you when she sees the film. Obviously, the fact that this was Taki and Mariam’s actual apartment lends the film an air of authenticity. I also read that all the extras in the film were your friends as well. So, is it fair to say that it’s almost a documentary?
SB: “Documentary” is very complimentary. But these main two characters, Taki and Mariam made them. They were not playing themselves. Taki is a completely different person to [Tina]. Most of the people in Georgia who see the film and who don’t know Taki say, “wow, where did you find this girl from the provinces?” Mariam and Taki really worked on these characters and made them what they are. As for the others: usually, when you shoot a party scene, you give the extras fake alcohol, and they act drunk. We did it vice versa: we said the alcohol will be real, but the only thing is don’t look into the camera. So, in the end we had the most realistic extras because they were totally drunk in that moment.
Do you think this is a film that is aimed at or made for your generation of Georgians, or specifically Tbilisi residents? I know you’ve travelled with it to a lot of festivals; I wonder how different European audiences react to it?
SB: [Working on the film] sounds like it was all fun, but the film is very important. It’s about young women and the problems they’re facing in Georgia, in this patriarchal society. We thought that it’s a very Georgian problem, but we see now at these festivals that we travel to that many people are touched by these topics. We understand that this is more general than local. Yes, this film is a bit ambitious because we wanted to be a voice for this young generation of Georgian women, [to be] the unheard voices of these women.
MK: It started with very specific Georgian characters, but it’s very universal in terms of the problems [it depicts]: Covid, flat-sharing, intimacy. I remember [at the London Film Festival], a lot of people said that they related to the film very well in terms of the flat-share and the pressures created by Covid.
TM: Women have a problem all across the world. Women are still the second sex; the world is still dominated by men. We talk about whether the world has changed – maybe some countries have better women’s rights, women there are more powerful, but these problems still exist. We can see what is happening now in Iran, for example. We were at one festival and the jury members were all men, and they were talking about [these] women’s issues, saying, “it’s a really great movie, Soso, you made a great movie…” And I was standing on the stage as well. To them I was just a woman, just an actress, and they didn’t want to talk about it. I was looking at this thinking: this is a microcosm, a really great example of how unfair the world is. This feeling, I can never forget it. The world is still [made] for men.
Taki Mumladze and Mariam Khundadze in A Room of My Own (dir. Soso Bliadze, 2022)
Mariam and Taki, from your perspective as performers, how did you approach this story of female friendship and intimacy that is both emotional and physical? How did you manage to navigate the potential difficulties involved in putting that onscreen in a sensitive, empathetic way?
MK: It happened so gradually. I didn’t know [at first] that we were going to have those intimate scenes, and that emotionally we would get there in the end. If I had known, I would have been super nervous from the start. The most important thing for me was that, because we were really friends, I felt really safe with Taki and really connected to her. Also, she co-wrote it [so] I trusted the process. Maybe I wouldn’t have trusted so much on another film. That really helped me to do scenes that [otherwise] I would not do at that point in my life – or ever.
TM: We were talking about this a lot. We made the decision [because] we thought it’s really important for Georgian cinema and in Georgia more generally [to include these intimate scenes]. One of our friends saw this scene, a very talented Georgian actress, and she said that if she’d seen that scene maybe two years ago, she would have felt freer. It was so emotional for us. Georgia is quite conservative, women’s sexuality there is very repressed, and for us it was important to be free. We didn’t want to compromise. Soso said that we could shoot it differently, without nudity, but we made this decision together. We were talking about freedom, and if you want to be free then you should pay. It was not easy. The crew [during the sex scene] was just [Dimitri Dekanosidze] the DoP, Soso, and Tornike, the sound recordist. But they weren’t just there as the DoP and the sound recordist: we were working together, talking together, making decisions together. It really was teamwork.
Georgian cinema very eclectic in a good way. Freedom is the most important theme. Contemporary Georgian filmmakers are freer to talk about anything they want
People might not be aware of this, but there are a series of ongoing scandals in Georgian film at the moment, and the question of the representation of gender and sexuality is increasingly cause for debate. Could you explain some of the issues with contemporary Georgian film, and how you think this film will fit into that when it does show in Georgia?
SB: There have been some bad examples. The film And Then We Danced by Levan Akin – when it premiered in Georgia, ultranationalists came to the cinema, they were throwing stones, some people were harmed. There was another film, Comets [dir. Tamar Shavgulidze, 2019], where there was also a protest against its treatment of LGBT topics. [Our] film, though, I wouldn’t say it’s a film about “lesbian love”, its more about friendship. I hope nothing will happen at the premiere. I don’t want anybody to be harmed because of my film, that would be very bad.
MK: It’s not only about the audience, but the pressure on the actors, in terms of how women should be presented in society. If you’ve done scenes like [the sex scene in Room of My Own] so many people regard you as poorly behaved. Our parents are from a different generation. We were raised with the idea that we have to be such well-behaved girls, we have to get married and have kids. So, for example, Taki and I were talking about how personally for us it might cause pain, because we care about our parents and how they might take it.
SB: It’s so sad that we still have to consider that. But that’s what we wanted with this film, we wanted to show that we are free. But I still hope that they’re going to love this film.
Do you see signs that contemporary Georgian cinema and its younger directors are starting to generate some momentum, in terms of changing the conversation around this material?
SB: I think not only in cinema, but also in theatre and contemporary art. In Georgia, a sexual revolution is going on right now, beyond just LGBT topics, and this is very good. What I see is that Georgian cinema touches of many different topics, it’s very eclectic in a good way. Freedom is the most important theme. Contemporary Georgian filmmakers are freer to talk about anything they want. The problem is with the Ministry of Culture nowadays – we see some signs of censorship. This film was made without a budget, but if we submitted it for funding, we wouldn’t get it. It’s not official censorship, but we see that these projects are never financed in Georgia.
MK: Things are happening for the better and people are getting more freedom of speech in cinema, writing, theatre – but it’s only happening in the capital, in our bubble. It’s not happening on the outskirts or in villages or in other cities, and I think that’s a problem of education as well, which our government isn’t helping with at all. Changes are happening, which is good, but only for a tiny percentage of people.
Watch A Room of My Own on Klassiki from 8-29 December.