Opashkata na diavola is considered one of the most beautiful Bulgarian films of the post-1989 age. Irina Ivanova looks at this work that looks at modern life in a "normal way."
Bulgarian film has had a greatly reduced international profile in recent years—a particularly marked contrast to the Communist era, when Bulgarian films won plaudits around the globe—and domestically audience preferences have swung towards American films. Dimitar Petkov's recent Opashkata na diavola (The Devil's Tail, 2001), however, revives some of the classic Bulgarian poetism in a film that still deals with contemporary themes without becoming overly pretentious. Festival coverage so far has been muted, but the world rights have been bought up by German company Peppermint, with a domestic release iminent.
Violence after the changes
Eleven years ago, Dimitar Petkov, up to then a director of documentaries, shot his first feature film, Tishina (Silence, 1991), in which he asked a question inspired by a poem by Vladimir Levchev: Who is dreaming your life?
At that time, immediately after the fall of the Communist regime, many Bulgarian films were made about the country's near past and about life in totalitarian times. Most of them (among which Margarit i Margarita (Margarit and Margarita, 1989) by Nikolai Volev and Granitza (Border, 1993) by Ilian Simeonov and Christian Notchev) are coarse, primary even, full of instances of violence, sex, rape—everything that Bulgarians couldn't show and watch for 45 years. I don't know whether these films succeeded in arousing people's hatred towards their Communist past, but they definitely disappointed local audiences . (The reasons behind this disappointment are, of course, various—but that is another theme.)
Tishina is maybe the one artistic revelation about the past in Bulgarian cinema following the events of 1989. The main protagonist, Mincho, is a sculptor about 30 years old. In 1962, he had his first solo exhibition. He tried to show that he was alive, that he created and that he was a free man in spite of the system. As Nikolai Berdjaev says: "The human being is a creative being, because he is free. And he is a free being, because he is a creative one". Although this sentence wasn't mentioned in Petkov's film, it encompasses its inner core to perfection.
But Mincho was forced to close his exhibition and the sculptures were destroyed. He was left alone-everybody abandoned him. There is a pathetic metaphorical episode at the end: he climbs a mountain carrying his last piece of work-the Statue of Victory-on his back; he destroys the sculpture in an explosion and total silence sets in.
The lucky one
Tishina won the Golden Rose at the 1991 Sofia Film Festival, but Dimitar Petkov's professional path wasn't that much easier afterwards. True, after Tishina, he made 6 documentary films. He founded a production company, Paralax, with his friend and constant collaborator, cameraman Christo Bacalov (who, at the moment, is working in the United States) But he didn't realize any of his feature film projects with the exception of Opashkata na diawola—"the lucky-project." At the time of completion, there was some uncertainty regarding its success. Now, however, this film is thought to be one of the most beautiful Bulgarian films of the last decade.
Opashkata na diavola is built around a simple comprehensible contemporary story, intertwined with ancient beliefs. Pavel (played by Samuel Finzi, who works in Germany, but has been involved with a series of Bulgarian film projects in the past year) is a 35-year-old jazz musician. He inherits an old and very beautiful family house. He is immediately approached by a strange man, a lawyer named Sheitanov, who wants to buy the building in question. But, to Pavel, the lawyer wants to buy everything that he has been deprived of his entire life: his family's memory and remembrance of them. "We want your house, not your soul," Sheitanov tells Pavel in, perhaps, the central sentence in the film. But, in Bulgaria a house is one's home and one's home is one's soul. Or so it used to be, at least...
Pavel has another problem, too. He lives with his girlfriend Sonja, an opera singer. They love each other, but Pavel isn't sure that he wants to get married. He meets a young mischievous girl and has an affair. This tempting woman, the Devil's lawyer Sheitanov and a mysterious man in black (the true Devil, maybe?) are something of a satanic threesome, gathered to buy Pavel's soul—through sex, money or atavistic fear.
Kinoeye spoke to Marius Kurkinski, the wonderful Bulgarian theatre actor who plays the lawyer Sheitanov (whose name is derived from "Satan") in the film , and asked him what element is, for him, central to this movie:
At last, [there's] a film talking about things that have happened in Bulgaria during the last decade in a normal way. [...] From one man's point of view, not [according to] some political convictions, which is repulsive. At the same time, I think there's nothing special about our time. We must simply "awaken" [and perceive it]. Because the simplification of life is a barbarism.
Kurkinski is right. Pavel belongs to the Bulgarian "lost generation" (also none as the "hopeless generation")-people who were about 18 to 20 years old in 1989. Is it possible to save his soul in the whole chaos?
Petkov himself told Kinoeye that
When I started to write the screenplay for Opashkata na diavola I understood one important thing about myself and about the whole world: the Devil lives in the same place as God-in people's souls. And very often it is he who motivates our actions. The world [...] seems to me now more complicated, but more comprehensible, too.
Then, on being asked what, if anything, he would sell his soul for, he replied, "Well,... this is the question, in fact."
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