There is a common misconception that Bulgarian cinema has been in a steady decline. Perhaps, there is some truth to that statement considering the lacking amount of state funding and a small domestic market being serious obstacles. The number of Bulgarian productions coming out every year is not big and when audiences compare the industry to what it was back in the 70s and 80s, it kind of makes sense why there is this general disappointment. However, there are worthy productions and they deserve more attention and bigger audiences because that’s the only way to expect more Bulgarian films to be made.
Here’s a list of 12 really good Bulgarian films film the past 10 years:
Ága by Milko Lazarov, 2018
Ága is a foreign language last film by Milko Lazarov Aga and it closed the Berlinale 2018 to became the first Bulgarian film in the festival program for nearly 30 years. In his debut Alienation, explored the topic of child traffic from Bulgaria to Greece. Meanwhile, here we find ourselves in a yurt in the middle of the snowy Siberian wasteland. Lazarov tells in Yakutian language about an elderly Eskimo man and woman who lost their children because of the city and modern life. Aga is a slow, very emotional and beautifully shot film with a touching balance of important things in life. Its story goes far beyond the borders of Bulgarian cinema with ambition, a strong vision and a universal message.
Godless by Ralitsa Petrova, 2016
Irena Ivanova makes a fantastic acting debut in a tragic story from one of the poorest regions in Bulgaria. In the role of the young physiotherapist Gana, who scams the documents of the elderly people entrusted to her care before she is overwhelmed by remorse, Ivanova’s performance is both spectacular and tragic. Ralitsa Petrova’s debut film makes a special effort to destroy any existing hope from the post-communist existence of her anti-heroine, to create an extremely gloomy reality and to show how sometimes even in the smallest ray of beauty (the songs of the church choir that Gana hears) comfort or salvation can be found.
Thirst by Svetla Tsotsorkova, 2015
Svetla Tsotsorkova’s full-length directorial debut is an undisputed favorite from the latest Bulgarian films that came out in recent years for several reasons. In the first place is the strong story in which the lack of water is both a technical and, metaphorically, an emotional problem for several people in a forgotten corner of Southwestern Bulgaria. What follows are the wonderful landscapes and cinematography of Veselin Hristov follow, which rank him among the most visually striking Bulgarian films that come to mind. Another important aspect is the convincing performance of the young Monika Naidenova and Aleksandar Benev, as well as the fantastic Svetlana Yancheva – one of the best contemporary Bulgarian actresses.
Light Thereafter by Konstantin Bojanov, 2017
Konstantin Bojanov built on the success of Avé (2011) with the English-language production Light Thereafter. The film tells the story of an autistic, alienated from the world young man who leaves his mother’s home (a Bulgarian immigrant to England) to look for his idol – a raw artist living as a hermit in the French countryside. Although not devoid of clichés about art and maturation, at times controversial dialogue or unconvincing acting by some of the cast, the drama shines because of the performance of Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, 2017) in the role of Pavel and the excellent cinematography of Nenad Borojevic.
No one by Andrey Andonov, 2017
The need of some editorial work on the dialogue and the controversial stylistic and musical aesthetics prevents No one from reaching their full potential. The drama, which Andrey Andonov created with a public fundraising campaign, a lot of effort and enviable perseverance, revolves around a love triangle between a young woman who recently lost her father, her boyfriend and her best friend in a small hereditary house in the Rhodopes. No one got attention with the first lesbian kiss in Bulgarian cinema, but more important is the interesting and modern story told by Andonov and Yavor Veselinov, the good performances of Gergana Pletnyova and Silvia Petkova and the question of what will be Andonov’s next step.
The Lesson by Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, 2014
Although Glory (2016) got more international recognition of the directorial tandem Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, many prefer their previous feature The Lesson because of the very authentic vibes and performances. Grozeva and Valchanov are constant in their choice of actors and here again, they work with Margita Gosheva and Stefan Denolyubov. Filmed without any government subsidy, The Lesson is a drama marked by the difficult years in the banking sector after the global economic crisis. Gosheva is undoubtedly the star of the film with a very captivating performance as a teacher with a young daughter and a drunk husband, who is faced with a difficult moral choice for the survival of her family, against the background of ironically persistent attempts to show her students how to do the right thing.
Hristo by Grigor Leftorov and Todor Matsanov, 2016
Hristo appeared a long time after being produced on the big screen with not a lot of recognition in media or full halls, but left a bright mark because of the caliber of the performance of the main character, played by Dimitar Nikolov. Directed by Leftetov and Matsanov, the young actor positions himself as one of the most promising young actors with his brilliant portrayal of an 18-year-old homeless man determined to turn his life around with honest work, even though fate was adamantly against it. The hopeless story does not ask new questions and does not provide answers. However, the excellent, sometimes almost documentary cinematography of Nenad Boroevich at times triggers dizziness, and the presence of certain TV characters in small roles is more irritating than contributing to the film. However, Hristo is definitely worth it because of the well-told story and the magnificent Nikolov.
The Color of the Chameleon by Emil Hristov, 2012
Emil Hristov’s black comedy about a wayward and psychopathic agent of the secret services from the Socialist era in Bulgaria (based on Vladislav Todorov’s novel Zincograph) is one of the most interesting takes on the topic of Bulgaria’s past in a less common genre. The budget production is original, though the storytelling is not clear at times. The pleasantly stylized shots and the ingenious choice of the main actor – the role of Batko Stamenov fits perfectly Rushi Vidinliev in his first serious attempt for a career shift from a pop star to an actor. Irena Milyankova, Deyan Donkov and Hristo Garbov also keep him in good company, and the end result is somewhere between a thriller and a comedy, and although Hristov sometimes moves on the edge of the pretentious, he never irritates or becomes boring.
SHELTER by Dragomir Sholev, 2010
Shelter is another directorial debut, this time of the veteran of the advertising business Dragomir Sholev. After a few short films, Sholev’s first feature film is a drama about the distance that can exist between three people living under one roof. Shelter appeals with its tight and well-told story about familiar family dynamics, a lively dialogue of the characters, sense of humor and the truly fantastic cinematography of Krum Rodriguez, who shot some of the other films in this selection.
Losers by Ivaylo Hristov, 2015
Ivaylo Hristov’s film got several prestigious awards. The director manages to build on his previous films Emigrants (2000) and Footsteps in the Sand (2010). He portrays lively and authentic characters. The film tells the story of a group of high school students in a small town who consider themselves losers because they were born in a shitty place, with shitty parents and no chance of anything good happening to them. However, they still dream …
Avé by Konstantin Bojanov, 2011
It’s one of the most popular films in the new Bulgarian cinema. After its world premiere at Critics’ Week in Cannes, the work won prestigious awards even before it hit the big screen. “Ave” was written by Konstantin Bojanov and Arnold Barkus. Operators are Nenad Borojevic and Radoslav Gochev. While hitchhiking for his friend’s funeral, Kamen meets 17-year-old Ave, a runaway looking for her troubled brother. During her journey, she gets Kamen in more and more trouble, and he falls in love with the crazy and strange girl.
Glory by Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, 2016
Grozeva and Valchanov’s second film is a social parable, reminiscent of a game of chess – about a pawn who is reluctantly trying to eliminate the queen and falls victim. The bearded railwayman Tsanko Petrov finds one million levs scattered near the railway line. When he turned them over to the police instead of putting them in his pocket, his colleagues declared him a “national fool,” but the Ministry of Transport – embroiled in an ongoing scandal – took the opportunity to introduce its new hero.
Image source: Pexels; Luis Quintero