Glory by Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov continues the trilogy started with The Lesson. And is definitely better, too. May this trend be sustained in the years ahead!’ The recent awards (among an array of and increasingly scooped awards) received by Glory at the Gijón International Film Festival, Spain, a prestigious film event having a long tradition and boasting over 50 editions, were the Best Feature Film Best, Best Script and the FIPRESCI Prizes.
European film has recently witnessed an established trend, that of hyperrealism, though the palette of artistry in rendering the style in the light of film language is, of course, varying from film to film. Film hyperrealism may be didactic, dull, boring or quite the contrary. The negative would happen more often than not. Why ‘hyperrealism’? Because the camera is used to multiply the ugly realities of life as such and beyond, to the point of becoming oversaturated with veracity. The main message conveyed by this type of movies is always related to such subjects as discontent with the System and the status quo; the deformations of the ‘democracies’; the complete failure of the civil society; the chasms in the social domain; the insatiable greed for political power, the lot of those humiliated and insulted; committing crimes that go unpunished; the cynicism of dehumanisation; amputation of empathy; the agony of knowledge and of the ability to think adequately; holding human dignity in servile ridicule; disgust at otherness (he/she is not one of us); intellectuality reduced to poverty and sin; the hollow snobbism of the mob type genus; substitution of values and making a mockery of them; money and power as an all-consuming (to the point of self-abandonment) cesspool; the invisibility of the grassroots … etc. The thematic diversity may be drawn on and on.
Most of these elements of the plot are, in fact, a more or less integral part of the storyline of Glory.
Tsanko Petrov is a humble railroad linesman, a countryman, but not a country bumpkin. Unpretentious. Diffident. Exact and as regular as clockwork, just like his old Slava Soviet era timepiece, his never-failing guide, which he ritually winds at the same time every morning. Tsanko is a stutterer; a hobbyist rabbit breeder; making no fuss, but having deep respect and affection for life and nature; watching his workmates periodically siphoning diesel for sale on the black market. When walking the tracks one morning, Tsanko discovers bundles of banknotes scattered from a sack. He does the right thing and reports his find to the police. A service is arranged to express the gratitude of the Minister of Transport. The Ministry’s PR spin doctor, Julia Staikova is the central figure in the process of mounting the award ceremony: arrogant, ambitious and maybe—greedy, going too far and having an over-inflated ego, bulling all and sundry; an unscrupulous 40-year-old, who measures all things by money, manipulations and power; a domineering wife of a henpecked husband, she purportedly wants a child, but just to live up to her reputation, because this is the way it is done in her image-conscious milieu. Prior to the ceremony, Julia Staikova takes away Tsanko’s family heirloom watch Slava (Glory) and the latter goes missing. Big deal! It is where the movie reaches a tipping point unleashing absurd, cruel or tragic at times vicissitudes, which the railroad linesman grapples with in an attempt to get back his old watch with a time-darkened scratched glass, Simply because it is a meaningful keepsake given him by his father and bearing a inscription on its caseback, which reads: ‘To my son, Tsanko’. And that’s that.
Glory (Bulgaria/Greece film coproduction), is based on a true story of a railroad linesman, Kolio from Kurilo train station, who found in 2002 a bag on the tracks, containing BGN3mln cash and reported it to the police. That is where the idea was taken from to be further developed fictionally into different storylines. No good deed goes unpunished, is the main point in the story. ‘It is the find of money and the award that are non-fictional. The rest is a product of our imagination. Glory is not a documentary and the characters depicted in our movie are entirely fictional’, Kristina Grozeva underscored.
Unlike The Lesson, which I happened to dislike strongly, though I did my best twice to see it, (well, I managed the second time to make myself sit it out.) Glory has made it because this time the directors, Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov have taken a more artistic approach involving more flair for film, more precisely selected cast and even more cunning (in the finest sense of the word) interpretation of the plot. The conflicts are rendered more contrastable by using elements of absurd, dark and even sardonic in places, sense of humour or situations both ridiculous and typical of Bulgaria’s, or rather of this the-Stans-like country’s hyperrealistic way of being. In a word, ‘mentality’, as Tsanko Petrov would have stuttered, articulating the word in a way that would leave viewers astonished by the fact that such a character might know such sophisticated words. So far so good! Well done for that matter! Sugarcoating the rather bitter pill of hyperrealism to swallow.
At times though Glory sounds a bit trite, superficial, void of a psychological insight, particularly when delving into the glitzy world of the Ministry’s spin doctor. At times the tempo-rhythm gets bogged down either; neither is it strongly conditioned dramaturgically nor strongly motivated and is incomplete in terms of acting performance. Well, it seems somewhat unbelievable that such a high-handed character as Julia Staikova (Margita Gosheva) would all of a sudden get cold feet over the thought of Tsanko taking his own life and go on the booze, feeling twinges of guilt. Or, in distress, would go after him. It doesn’t quite add up. Such a reaction seems illogical and untrustworthy. People like Julia are brutal and never take anything to heart. Never! Such humans are void, a priori, of the milk of human kindness. They wouldn’t show empathy, compassion or mercy even if their survival is at stake and not just because they are unable to, but also because such a ‘moral degradation’ disgusts them. Unfortunately.
Glory is all about the reckless frivolity of vesting with unbridled power and the flagrant violation of what is human in humans. Still, the main reason for the movie’s success is, in my opinion, Stefan Denolyubov’s screen presence. A formidable actor! His incredible getting into the contemplative and folksy, but perfectly organic character of Tsanko Petrov, propels Glory far ahead. (Which Margita Gosheva, alas, failed to do in The Lesson, given the ridiculously theatrical and stagy Ivan Barnev at her side, while Denolyubov, playing the role of a pawnshop owner, built a powerful and memorable episode in The Lesson.)
And that is that: the whole gamut and depth of Stefan Denolyubov’s methods render Glory an enduring aftertaste of a good movie, a film brutally sending piercing pangs throughout your mind and making you mull it over and over for days. Well done! One couldn’t even imagine another performer of the role of Tsanko. (See Stefan Denolyubov in While Aya Was Sleeping by Tsvetodar Markov, where he wore a different hat!). So, hopefully he would not be routinely typecast into such roles to perpetuate this stereotype, as is often the case with Bulgarian movies.
Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov’s film poses challenges in more global strands of thought too: ‘For its sarcastic look at the corruption in all the spheres of society and its simple yet powerful story that exposes universal issues related to class struggle’, the FIPRESCI jury explained their rationales for awarding the movie at Gijón International Film Festival. Clearly and categorically enough. I wonder though if our Western colleagues (this line of division will not be blurred in the foreseeable future!) are really aware that we are experiencing live this film in Bulgaria (yet another characteristic of cinematic hyperrealism!) Supposedly, that is the reason why such films would find it difficult to attract the general public. The savvy cinemagoers and professionals might well dismiss it––and some of them already do it too––by saying: ’Reality, surrounding us to the point of suffocation, when shown also onscreen is too much to bear’. That said, I categorically don’t mean that Bulgarian films ought not to deal with reality in this particular manner. Quite the contrary and Glory is an excellent example! These reflections just warn against a danger of prompting a glut and repulsion and even delicately call for genre diversity where both worth-seeing, box-office hits and arthouse films will earn a place in the sun.
Socially and politically committed film (the line of Grozeva, Valchanov’s trilogy) is a scream meant to result in a social change. These processes were especially strong within the film industries of a number of twentieth-century countries and in the 1970s they were defined as an aspect of the so-called Third Cinema. Some of the film industries have not been part of the Third Cinema for quite a while now, but rather have advanced significantly in the matter. Now, it’s our turn to fit into the minefield of contemporary socially and politically committed film. Still, isn’t it coming too late with the Romanian new wave or the Dardenne brothers, etc., far outpacing us? Can we be different? Or will we slide into the all-forgiving: ‘Better late than never’. Or: Why not give it a try?’ More questions are inevitable: what’s the point of and why this type of film should dominate European screens? That is definitely not the way for European film to win the struggle against the American monopoly. Shouldn’t’ art rise above this (hyper)realism? Who is eventually the addressee of the message: aren’t different spectators supposed to wake up to what is retold onscreen? Yes, they are, but such spectators will not go to see the movie and if seeing it, they will not make sense of it. This brings us to the vexed question: aren’t we eating masochistically our hearts out through film? It is not for nothing probably. See Glory and think it over.
Dirs: Petar Valchanov, Kristina Grozeva
Writs: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov, Decho Taralezhkov
DoP: Krum Rodriguez
Music by Hristo Namliev
Prods: Abraxas Film, Graal Films
Aupported by NFC, BNT Greek Film Center
Cast: Margita Gosheva, Stefan Denolyubov, Kitodar Todorov, Milko Lazarov, Ivan Savov, Hristofor Nedkov, Mira Iskarova, Deyan Statulov