Georgi (Ovanes Torosian) is a typical schoolboy in search of some identity and--being lack of guide, ends up hanging out with the wrong people. Itso (Christo Christov) was a drug addict now undergoing a therapy who finds himself sinking in beers. Through them, we see post cold-war Bulgaria--its freedom, as well as its confusion.Written by
It has been quite some time since a film genuinely moved me. This past week or so, I have sat through and enjoyed, to varying degrees, Scorsese's Shutter Island and Polanski's The Ghost Writer. Both were polished, well-made, clever films (the latter perhaps slightly more than the former), but I will soon forget them. I don't think I'm going to forget Eastern Plays anytime soon. This Bulgarian film by Kamen Kalev is, well - why beat around the bush ? - a great work of art. Superbly shot in a Sofia filled with graffiti-covered buildings and vacant lots, Eastern Plays tells the story of Itso, an addict on methadone who has to drink beer more or less constantly to dull his pain. Quite by chance, he intervenes when a family of Turkish tourists gets attacked and beaten by a gang of Neo-Fascist thugs (led by a terrifying Alexander "The Indian" Radanov). This gradually leads to a relationship between Itso and the breathtakingly beautiful Isil (Saadet Isil Askoy), whose innocent, optimistic spirituality gradually begins to lift Itso out of the painful doldrums of his beery existence. I don't know what to praise most about this film : its portrayal of a modern Bulgaria adrift between racist youth gangs and football hooligans, the parents completely out of touch with the world of their children ; the incredibly true-to-life performance by Christo Christov, who died of an overdose before the film was finished shooting ? I think finally it is the luminous presence of Saadet Isil Askoy, who brings a sincerity and optimism to the film's grim context, as she tells Itso that we are all living in a time where people are sick inside, but that she feels a change is coming. This is not just a film about contemporary Bulgaria, although it is that as well. It is a film that captures a certain Zeitgeist of the early 21st century, in which, especially in post-Communist Eastern Europe, a restless youth with nothing more to believe in attempts to fill the gap inside them as best they can : with drugs, alcohol, headbanger rock, neo-fascist thuggery, or, in a few precious, fragile cases, with art and music. I have not recently seen a more deeply moving scene in a film than the one is which a desperate Itso consults his psychiatrist : all he wants to do, he says, is find the goodness within himself. He wishes he could radiate light like a crystal, and love all human beings, but he does not know how.
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