Film Reviews


By • May 15th, 2017 •

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How about trying a Bulgarian film?

It’s been described as a dark Capra-esque comedy, but there’s not much Capra here, except for its being the story of a lone individual who finds himself in over his head when he runs up against an unfamiliar part of the larger society. The premise may sound ripe for a comedy, and there are definitely some laughs, but it would better be described as a cold, hard look at the worldly cynicism of modern life.

Tzanko Petrov is what people today would term a loser. An unkempt, dour loner living a reclusive existence, he is an urban version of a rube. A century or two ago, he would have been a peasant. Today he works as a lineman for the Bulgarian railway. He spends his days walking the solitary path of the tracks, checking to ensure that all the nuts-and-bolts connections are secure, ignoring the railway workers who are illicitly siphoning off fuel, presumably to sell on the black market. When he stumbles across an abandoned case of cash, he immediately reports it properly to the authorities, as a good citizen should. But, as Clare Boothe Luce has warned, no good deed goes unpunished.

The Ministry of Transport has been trying to cope with the fallout from corruption scandals, so the publicity department is happy to pounce on this welcome diversion of a story praising this honorable upright employee. The head of public relations, Julia Staykova, so obsessively devoted to her work that she takes cell calls during her gynecology appointment, homes in on Tzanko to spruce him up for his moment in the limelight, as a distraction from the current bad press. In the flurry to render Tzanko presentable, clothes are hurriedly borrowed from whomever is nearby, and Julia slips off his wristwatch, so that the Minister can present Tzanko with a new one as a reward.

But Tzanko doesn’t prove to be quite their ideal camera-ready mini-celebrity. Shambling and inarticulate, he has no interest in the sudden attention. He’s not fluent enough to parrot the usual drivel nor dazzled by the lure of camera, yet he’s honest and assertive enough to take the opportunity to remind the Minister that the railway workers are owed back pay, and to speak up about the corruption he sees among his co-workers. Naturally, the Minister shrugs him off.

The photo-op concluded, as far as Julia is concerned, Tzanko has served his purpose, and she dismisses him. Tzanko, however, despite his reluctant cooperation, remains stubborn about one point: he wants his own wristwatch back. It’s a treasured gift from Tzanko’s father, and the shoddy new one given as his public reward is no acceptable substitute. Julia, impatient and unaccommodating, has lost Tzanko’s watch, and tries to ignore him, especially as she figures he’s angling for a pay-off. Nevertheless, the normally taciturn Tzanko now becomes tenacious and insistent, with no compunction about badgering anyone he can reach. This time he won’t be shrugged off.

This is only the second feature for the filmmakers, the writing-directing team of Petar Valchanov and Kristina Grozeva (with Decho Taralezhkov as co-screenwriter) whose debut feature “The Lesson,” picked up awards at international festivals in multiple categories. It’s is shot and edited with concision, developing and escalating so realistically that there’s no predicting how this will play out, as hilarity or disaster.

GLORY re-unites the same acting leads, Stefan Denolyubov and Margita Gosheva, in wonderfully detailed roles, with the characters vivid and naturalistic. Although Tzanko–indeed, the whole movie–has none of the sweet naivete of Capra’s creations, he does perhaps share a distant kinship with Longfellow Deeds from Capra’s MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, with Tzanko being peculiarly Slavic, this Tolstoian image of the low-caste peasant ennobled by his simplicity. Stefan Denolyubov, as the stuttering Tzanko, nevertheless expresses volumes, conveying both his inarticulate frustration and the hints of his inner life as he tenderly caresses his pet rabbits. If Tzanko epitomizes the simple peasant of centuries past, Julia is the Type-A powerhouse woman of the present. At the beck and call of the Minister, she is such a whirlwind of spin that she barely has time for her good-natured husband (unless it’s to call to demand that he run an errand for her). Margita Gosheva’s performance provides not only a recognizable portrait of the harried, driven Julia, but an equally believable momentary glimpse of the appealing person she was before being consumed by her job.

This movie would be worthwhile at any time, but is perhaps especially meaningful at the present moment, when American politics is increasingly seen as corrupt and meretricious. It may be Bulgarian, but certainly translates.

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