Blackberry Café, 28th Mall, Azadliq Avenue, Baku
Tel.:(+994) 12 499 8986 (ext 531)
Some of my readers will have been a mere twinkle in their parents’ eye in the 1980s, but I remember them very well. I was a young wife and new mother of a baby boy, living in Sydney. Power dressing, big hair, punk and new romantics were the order of the day and, in the UK, Mrs. Thatcher ruled supreme. It was around this time that I first heard about AIDS, a disease which put terror into the hearts of the ‘make love not war’ post 60s generation and which, invariably then, meant a death sentence. It was first observed in the USA in 1981, although cases of an early version of the virus are purported to have been diagnosed as far back as the 1930s. The discovery of HIV which is transmitted by what, these days, we call unsafe sex, between heterosexuals and homosexuals as well as needle sharers, blood transfusions and pregnancy, led to discrimination, particularly of the male gay community. Bearing in mind that in the UK homosexuality was illegal and punishable by a prison sentence until 1967, and from then on was legal only for consenting adults over the age of 21, until 1994 when that was adjusted to 18, and 2000 when it was further reduced to 16, in line with the age of consent for heterosexual partners, the gay community was well and truly forced to exist in the closet. Nowadays, there is a far greater acceptance of homosexuality but then, even in the 80s, it took a brave person indeed to come out as gay. There was a huge social stigma attached to it, it was considered an aberration of nature curable by ‘pulling yourself together and finding a nice girl/boy’. The emergence of AIDS drove this fear to the point of the general population hysterically avoiding all contact with these ‘perverts’ and the belief, in some cases, that AIDS was God’s punishment for carnal sin and ‘abnormal’ practices. It is against this background that the film ‘Pride’ is set. The film which won a BAFTA award this year, a British Independent Film Award in 2014 and the ‘Queer Palm’ at the Cannes Festival last year, was recently put on by the British Council Baku at the Cinema in 28th May Mall as part of their British Spring Festival. To be honest, initially I didn’t think it would be my kind of film. Basically, I like complicated French films with subtitles or anything with Kristin Scott Thomas, and the lovely husband likes typical ‘boy’ films with action, adventure, car chases and shoot outs. We certainly do not have the same cinematographic tastes! What could possibly entice us to watch a film about a bunch of gays supporting rough Welsh miners during the miners strike against Thatcher in 1984? Nothing at all, really. Then a fun friend rang and said she’d got tickets and anyhow, we’d never been to the cinema here, so why not?
We met in the mall and joined the gathering throng in front of the cinema. I don’t think I have ever seen such huge buckets of popcorn, as were brandished about there! The audience were a very mixed crowd, young Azeris, a sprinkling of Expats, mostly Brits, a few middle aged ladies in fur coats. The film was meant to start at 7 pm but when we tried to enter, we got a “Yox” and had to hang around outside, in what cannot be described as an orderly queue, or, in fact a queue at all, by any stretch of the imagination! Eventually a good ten/fifteen minutes later we were let in and settled comfortably in the back row, all the better to escape quickly if our boredom threshold was stretched too far. Ah, but what a thoroughly brilliant film it was! Funny, entertaining, thought provoking and with superb acting. I can only recommend it! A real feelgood film, with moments of belly laughter and some of quite substantial lumps in the throat. While it may not have been intellectually super challenging, it was a good reminder of strength in numbers and the beauty of human warmth, without being remotely saccharine sweet. And then, Lordy Lord, when the Welsh choir sings…..tissues to the ready! It was all the more poignant as it is a true story and, right at the end of the film, the viewer gets informed as to what happened to the individual real life characters. It was so sad to see that the main gay activist died, aged 28 of AIDS while another HIV sufferer is still alive today, aged 65.
What exactly the young Azeris in the film crowd made of it, I can’t begin to imagine. Maybe they think that in the UK all men are flamboyant dressers and all women have orange punk quiffs? Well, that certainly would come across as very different, not to mention the (completely non-explicit) gay aspect, in this, by and large, quite homophobic country.
After the movies on a Friday night, a drink is called for and virtually next door to the cinema is the Blueberry Cafe and Bar. On first sight, it’s rather got the ambience of a diner or a railway café, in other words, it’s not exactly super cosy but it does the job. Even better, it has a well stocked bar, a not bad looking snack menu and very reasonable prices. What’s not to like?! Admittedly, our friend’s chicken and pickled cucumber wrap with salad was very dry and not especially palatable but my club sandwich was good, even if the toast wasn’t exactly properly toasted and the chips a bit cold. The lovely husband liked his trio of little cheeseburgers too. It was all nicely presented and the service wasn’t bad either. We had two glasses of white wine, a beer and one water and the bill for the whole lot came to AZN36. You can’t say better than that! The Blackberry Cafe is open from 10 am to 10 pm.