September 07, 2011

Podslon (2010)

The fall of communism in Eastern Europe, beginning with the Revolutions of 1989, is certainly one of the most significant events of recent history. The most obvious effect of this event was the end of the Cold War and the final dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, it was not the only one, as it was only the beginning of deep and complex social changes in the European countries that abandoned communism, and the effects of those changes can still be felt today. Bulgaria was one of those countries, and the fall of Todor Zhivkov's regime brought a difficult time of poor economic growth. More than 20 years after the end of communism, life is certainly different now, and this difference often leads to a difficult communication between the old and the new generations of Bulgarians. This topic is tackled by director Dragormir Sholov in his debut film "подслон " or "Podslon", a black comedy penned by Sholov himself along Dutch writer Melissa de Raaf and one of the stars of the "Romanian New Wave": Razvan Radulescu (of "Moartea domnului Lazarescu" fame).

In "Podslon" (literally "Shelter"), Tzvetan Daskalov plays Emil Stoychev, a water-polo coach who arrives home one morning after an away game only to find out that his 12 years old son Radostin (Kaloian Siriiski) is lost. His wife (Yanina Kasheva) informs him that Radostin went to a party two days ago and never returned. Alarmed by this, the Stoychevs report the case to the police, and when they return home from the police station, they find Radostin in his room, but he is not alone: a young punk girl who calls herself Courtney (Silvia Gerina) is taking a shower. Emil is shocked and angry about Radostin's notorious lack of interest in explaining his disappearance, but his mother, confused by the disappearance but happy to see her son back, decides that the best thing would be to prepare a family meal. To this chaos enters Tenx (Irena Hristoskova in a male role), Radostin's new punk friend, sporting a Mohawk and a great disdain for every symbol of authority (including Emil's). The Stoychev family will never be the same after having meal with Radostin's new friends.

As written above, the screenplay for "Podslon" is the result of a collaborative work between Melissa de Raaf, Razvan Radulescu and director Dragomir Sholov himself. Partially autobiographical, Sholov builds up a sharp black comedy that plays with the often abysmal differences between generations of Bulgarians, and specially, the lack of communication between them. In fact, lack of communication in general seems to be the film's main topic, as in "Podslon" it goes beyond affecting just different generations, but also tackles lack of communication between different social classes and even between male and female. Centered around the five characters, "Podslon" centers its comedy on the inability of everyone to listen to each other, and the unavoidable brutal clash of everyone's conflicting points of view. To this effect, the dialog owns a naturalness so vivid that gifts the film's with a great degree of verisimilitude. Divided in three "episodes" full of irony and an apparently bleakness, "Podslon" has a certain dry optimism subtly hidden in its anarchic chaos.

After a career crafting commercial and music videos, director Dragomir Sholov debuts in "Podslon" with a highly dynamic visual style that suits nicely the film's tone. Following his characters through the apartment in long fluid takes, Sholov gives "Podslon" a sleek visual narrative and achieves an almost intimate look at the lives of the Stoychevs, and succeeds in avoiding to have his film trapped in a stagebound atmosphere. This is instrumental, as given its screenplay, "Podslon" could had easily ended up looking like a taped play; instead, Sholov manages to use the work of cinematography by Krum Rodriguez as a voyeuristic intruder to the family's conflict, floating smoothly through the apartment, with carefully devised movements in which fortunately, Sholov avoids the temptation of the frenetic overuse of steady-cam. With one notable exception: the meal's scene, where the two couples (Radostin's parents and his punk friends) gather at the table to eat and discuss, as if Radostin's loyalty was the prize to win.

Given that the focus is on its characters, the actors' performances become an decisive element in "Podslon". Fortunately, the main cast delivers a remarkable work of acting, that's easily the best thing about the film. As the angry patriarch Emil Stoychev, Tzvetan Daskalov is a strong presence that can easily be both sympathetic and ridiculous. Daskalov gives his character a certain dignity and melancholy that can't help but imagine him (as punk Tenx does) as a tired and sad authority figure. A remarkable performance indeed, and equally remarkable is the one by actress Irena Hristoskova as the intransigent punk Tenx. Playing a male role, Irena captures the complex mix of angst, indifference and carefree attitude that her anarchic character displays. Tenx claims to not care about anything, though Irina manages to transmit that deep down, he does. Yanina Kasheva is quite funny in her role as Radostin's mother, whose way to cope with the conflict is trying to win back her son by inviting his punk friends to eat. Her scenes at the computer are great.

The rest of the cast is good, though nowhere near Dasakalov, Hristoskova or Kasheva. Silvia Gerina has occasional shining moments, though he role gets overshadowed once Tenx arrives to the apartment. Young actor Kaloian Siriinski, playing Radostin, also has several good moments, though most of the times he doesn't stand on the same level of his fellow castmates, though the potential for great things is certainly there. And that's maybe the same that could be said about Dragomir Sholov's debut "Podslon": has several great moments of brilliance, but fails to keep consistently on that level, though for a debut film, it truly showcases Sholov's potential to achieve greatness. "Podslon" is stylish, but often gets lost in its visual narrative style, as if it was digressing instead of directly making a point. Certainly, the comedy is there, and for the most part it works. Sholov's collaboration with de Raaf and Radulescu results in an often poignant story that despite its bleakness, keeps that naive view of life that a 12 years old kid still has.

Despite its problems, "Podslon", or "Shelter", is a remarkable and very entertaining film, and a more than terrific debut for Bulgarian filmmaker Dragomir Sholov. Giving a glimpse about life in post-communism Bulgaria, and perhaps most importantly, about out very human difficulties to communicate (or better said, to relate) with each other, it's truly a film with a lot of heart in it. Bleak, anarchic, and to a certain extent angsty, "Podslon" also has a soft side, and oddly optimistic, though dry view of life. As one lovely scene with Yanina Kesheva implies, there may be a great lack of communication in every family, but there is also the willpower to attempt to overcome it. Sometimes it'll succeed, sometimes it won't, but such is life.


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