The Father | Bashtata (2019) Oscars 2021 | Glasgow Film Festival 2021

Dir: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Vlachanov | Bulgaria Drama 87′

The Father is the third collaboration for Bulgarian auteurs Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov. This superbly scripted psychological drama follows in the wake of The Lesson (2014) and Glory (2016/7) and explores a son’s attempts to rescue his father from the hands of an unscrupulous psychic healer.

Fraught with darkly piquant humour this comedy will resonate with anyone experiencing similar issues with their own ageing parents, the judicious mixture of farce and satire intertwining to deliver an enjoyable watch while skewering the situation down to a tee.

The Father in question is a dreadful dominating demon. Vasil (Ivan Savov) has no respect for his respectable married middle-aged son Pavel (an appealing Ivan Barnev) who is almost diminished to a blithering idiot in his presence, despite being a successful businessman.

During his wife Valentina’s funeral, Vasil behaves in a disgraceful manner by asking Pavel to take some final photographs of his mother’s corpse in its coffin. When Pavel refuses, Vassil berates him in front of the assembled mourners and insists on doing it himself, belittling Pavel in the process, who later deletes the macabre snaps.

But it doesn’t end there. Vasil becomes obsessed with the idea that his wife is trying to contact him from beyond the grave (by mobile) and decides to consult with a local medium, Dr Ruvi, involving Pavel in the process. Pavel feels responsible for his father, while not liking him terribly much: thoughts of getting back to his wife and business are subsumed by those of guilt; somehow he feels drawn into Vasil’s web of madness, unable to extricate himself from the parental ties that bind. Very much in the same vein as Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, Vasil exerts the same vulnerable power as Bruce Dern’s paternal figure. Clearly Vasil needs protecting from the strange requests made by Ruvi, but in helping him, Pavel takes on an irritating and undignified mission.

Pavel is also consumed by latent anger and constantly back-footed by his father’s unreasonable demands. Meanwhile Vasil become more and more absurd and desperate – the interplay between the two men providing a rich vein of humour. This entertaining two-hander (we never actually meet Ruvi or Pavel’s wife) cleverly sees Pavel emerging as the ultimate hero of the piece, Grozeva and Valchanov adding plenty of textural grist to the duo’s convincingly volatile relationship. MT



Irina (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Nadejda Koseva; Cast: Martina Apostolova, Hristo Ushev, Kasiel Noah-Asher, Irina Jambonas, Alexander Kossev, Krassimir Dokov; Bulgaria 2018, 96 min.

Nadejda Koseva’s debut drama very much echoes the work of her compatriot Kristina Grozeva (The Lesson). Carried by talented newcomer Martina Apostolova in the title role, Koseva portrays a woman’s struggle with men and society in general. Unflinching and always ready to challenge inequality, Irina is full of passion and drive – but she must also discover what it means to love and to forgive.

Irina (Apostolava) is caught in a poverty trap. She works part-time in a restaurant near the capital Sofia, while work-shy husband Sasho (Ushev) is a stay at home father. Returning there one day, she surprises Shaso on the hop with her sister Lyudmila (Noah-Asher) but decides to turn a blind eye and instead invites the two for a drink: “I’m giving a party, I’ve been fired”. Shortly after, Shaso gets his comeuppance during a robbery at the nearby coal-mine, and is buried under the collapsed pit props. Irena saves his life, but suspects that their neighbour Varlam (Dokov) might have been responsible for the accident. But life goes on with Irina desperate for work but unsuccessful for the most part . After trying her luck as a prostitute, she answers a newspaper ad, and agrees to become a surrogate mother for payment. The wealthy couple, Eva (Jambonas) and Bozhidar (Kossev), are living in a parallel universe in Sofia, but Irina has nothing but contempt and judges them harshly. Another tragedy will bring her life firmly into focus.

For most of the time, Koseva conveys her message non-verbally, but in the opening scene, when Shasho badgers her for sex (but is happy to drink instead the beer Irina stole for him), she voices her unhappiness: “I wish I wasn’t alive”. Later on, symbolic gestures are enough: Bozhidar offers her a lift home from her gynaecological appointments in Sofia, but she prefers to take the bus. We see her refusal to be driven from the outside of the car, its windows one of many partitions, like that of the doctor’s office, which show her dis-enfranchisement. Somehow, these systemic fractures see Irina as a rank outsider trying to make her mark.

Apart from Apostolova’s strong performance, Kiril Prodanov’s striking images show that wealth can also be a trap: the many mirrors and alcoves are again partitions which shield  the inhabitants from the outside world. Koseva directs with great verve and confidence in this watchable debut, building on the experience gleaned from her short films. AS




Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia