The Last Seagull (2023) CPH:DOX

March 29th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Tonislav Hristov | Finland, Doc with Ivan | 79′

Writer director Tonislav Hristov offers more insight into his native Bulgaria with this melancholic look at last chances and dwindling communities seen through the eyes of an ageing ‘Seagull’, a man who makes a living from escorting female tourists.

Ever since 1979 Ivan has been charming the birds on Sunny Beach on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. Now, at 58, his days as a low level lothario are numbered and he is looking in the last chance saloon for a way out.

Sunny Beach is not exactly the Côte d’Azur but it’s cheerful and family-orientated with a fabulous stretch of silky white sand. For a long time the resort has offered rich pickings for Ivan in the shape of wealthy female tourists from nearby Russia or Ukraine. But the tousled-haired simian-featured chain smoker is now growing tired of the sun and endlessly parading up and down plying his trade. 

Love is simply a business deal for Ivan, a way to finance the rest of his life. And since his divorce he claims ‘to feel nothing for women’, despite his need to please them. Back in the good old days, hanging out with a ‘wealthy’ Russian or Ukrainian earned him €50 a day including board and lodging. His last relationship, with a Ukrainian, lasted three years. Now Ivan is forced to make his way working in a car wash and doing odd jobs around the local farms. The future certainly looks grim as he cuddles a kitten and a puppy back in his ramshackle house in the small rural backwater of Dervent – a place he now claims to hate.

But this social malaise is not just about Ivan. Everyone in the community is suffering the effects of transmigration. And with the young moving to the cities, the local population has dwindled in recent years. The pandemic also signalled a sea change in fortunes for the elderly ‘Don Juan’, now a grandfather, he yearns to reconnect with family and his estranged son who lives with his wife and toddler in Ukraine. 

Hard times have also made wealthy women selective: more than just ‘looks and a lay’, they want a responsible man who can hold down a ‘proper’ job. One trump card up Ivan’s sleeve is his EU status as a Bulgarian: despite being poor, he can offer Ukrainian or Russian women a passport to Europe. And a small flat of 50 square metres can be bought in the region for a mere 20,000 euros. Marriage to Ivan will give her Carte Blanche to move around Europe and ‘to much nicer countries such as Germany’. And that’s worth its weight in gold with the recent war in Ukraine, and the increasingly fraught situation in Russia.

Filmed during the pandemic and making the best of its coastal and rural settings captured in all their glory by Hristov’s regular DoP Orlin Ruevski, who filmed The Good Postman and January, this is a good-looking documentary and all the better for its tight edit and concise running time. The Last Seagull also connects with the narratives of Ulrich Seidl’s 2012 outing: Paradise: Love and Laurent Cantet’s Vers Le Sud (2005) that reflect on marriages of convenience, increasingly popular in this day and age. 


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