"We Are at Every Kilometre, from Here to the End of the World..."
If the modern viewer wants to get acquainted with the high-quality cinema produced in Eastern Europe during the 1944-1989 period, the communist years that is, this is one of the five or six finest examples that he/she can come across. But first things first: all this whining about those films being a propaganda and all, like the one done by one of the reviewers here, is ultimately redundant and ridiculous simply because such films were made on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The times demanded them, no more no less, and there was nothing inherently wrong with them, truth be told. The contemporary audience, free of political ideology and other similar burdensome mentality, will find all the right reasons to enjoy this highly thrilling ride, from the first to the last episode.
So this is a TV series which comprises two seasons, 13 episodes each, each episode closing around the one hour-mark. Season 1 deals with the Bulgarian partisan movement against the German occupators and their supporters in Bulgaria, and is a first-class war/adventure epic. The action takes place in the late-1930's/early-1940's, and is full to the brim with impressive spectacles: chases, skirmishes, battles, explosions, torture, captures, impossible escapes, betrayal, breath-taking vistas, a few love affairs as well but nothing too overtly melodramatic. There are quite a few humorous touches, too, but those will largely escape the foreign viewer since they are more deeply embedded in Bulgarian culture. I'm actually quite curious to hear how they have been translated into other languages, Russian included...
Season 2 switches the action to the times after the end of World War II, and each episode from it is a full-on espionage/counter-espionage thriller, think a mixture of the Harry Palmer features with Michael Caine ("The Ipcress File", "Funeral in Berlin") and the early James Bond films ("From Russia with Love" "Dr. No"), before this franchise became a flamboyant, gimmicks-by-the minute blockbuster... the tone, compared to the first season, becomes more academic and a tad darker, but the excitement is high all over although this second part is not as heavy on all-out action scenes. It's the Cold war, after all, not so much heat to be generated from clandestine operations in the enemy's backyard... Quite a few of the scenes are actually filmed in Western Europe which gives greater authenticity to the proceedings, and also makes the series even more absorbing.
It's obviously a labour of love, the whole series, with the entire constellation of Bulgarian cinema participating at various stages throughout, even when it comes to the brief compulsory cameo appearance. Of particular note is the interplay between the main protagonist and antagonist, the former being Nikola Deyanov, an intrepid partisan in the first season, and a key figure in Bulgarian intelligence service in the second; the latter being Bogdan Velinski, a main assistant to the German fascists at the beginning, and the heart and soul of numerous espionage operations on Bulgarian soil later. The two main characters bump into each other regularly throughout the episodes with Deyanov, played by none other than Bulgaria's finest Stefan Danailov (R.I.P.), on a some kind of a personal vendetta against Velinski who was responsible for Deyanov's father's death at the start of the series. However, instead of turning the entire enterprise into a vengeance saga, which could have been the case in the hands of less capable artists, the filmmakers steer away from the revenge-obsessed stereotype and depict Deyanov as a much more versatile personality who is truly dedicated to the communist cause, and is ready to submit his personal quest to the greater good. The two certainly confront each other at the end... but I'm not going to reveal everything here; let's just say that this opus is not exactly devoid of the staple happy ending...
I personally enjoyed the second season more as I'm an incorrigible sucker for spy stuff, and I would also like to point out that this second part must have played its part, to inspire the Bulgarian filmmakers to start churning out more features in the spy genre, with some true highlights (the majority made for TV, too) like "Double Trap", "Probability Equal to Zero", "Hot Traces", "The Cobra's Number", "The Black Frames", "Presscentre/The Big Game""... the list can be extended. Alas, save for the mentioned "Hot Traces" ("Goresti Sledi") and "Presscentre/The Big Game" ("Goliamata Igra"), which can still be found on youtube (Bulgarian language only), those ventures are next to impossible to track down, buried somewhere deep in the archives of Bulgarian National Television... The series reviewed here are not exactly a very rare item, but whether they have been translated into your language, that would be up to you to find out. Please make the effort... you won't regret it. I promise.
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