A fairy tale film about the metamorphoses of a child, reacting to each glance with a magic whirlwind, which changes its gender - from a boy it becomes a girl and vice versa. While looking ...
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A fairy tale film about the metamorphoses of a child, reacting to each glance with a magic whirlwind, which changes its gender - from a boy it becomes a girl and vice versa. While looking for a solution, the family of this peculiar child meets a family of gypsy-sorcerers. Their abilities are concentrated in their daughter Lily. She makes an extraordinary sacrifice in the name of love.
Lilly the Little Fish is a beautiful and brave film
We saw Yassen Grigorov's Lilly the Little Fish twice since its release in Sofia on 9 February 2018 and we, children and grown-ups alike, loved it. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first Bulgarian children's cinematographic film in at least a quarter of a century and, in my opinion, it has been well worth the waiting.
The most obvious thing about this film is that it is beautiful. Beauty is everywhere. In the close focus on the brilliant children actors, the fantastic artwork in drawings, costumes, properties, locations, exterior and interior of buildings, augmented reality, animation, gimmicks and special effects. The meticulous attention to detail and overall stylization of the film's world, as well as the beautiful photography, is remotely reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Wes Anderson, but to everyone who knows Yassen Grigorov it is immediately evident that we are invited inside the imagination of the Bulgarian writer, illustrator, creative artist, and film director.
Beauty is by no means scattered chaotically throughout the film - on the contrary, it is ordered painstakingly into cohesive and coherent structures of meaning. Shapes, colours, patterns, symmetries repeat in fractal fashion and arrange into a bigger picture - the picture of the world seen through the eyes of a child.
Yet another dimension of the beauty of Lilly the Little Fish is the score by Victor Stoyanov. It is in total harmony with the whole production - elegant and transporting, without drawing too much attention on itself.
The cast is impressive. The film features many famous Bulgarian actors, e.g. Tatyana Lolova, Nikolai Urumov, Koyna Ruseva, Stoyan Radev, Kalin Sarmenov, who are wonderful, but I was moved the most by the absolutely fabulous performances of children actors - Boyan Grigorov, Kalina Asenova, Darina Doseva and Kaloyan Minchev, as well as by less-familiar-to-Bulgarian-audiences, Plovdiv theatre actor Dobrin Dosev.
So far, it must have become clear that Lilly the Little Fish speaks to us in many languages: beautiful design, music, acting - but all this rests on the strong foundations of a good, well developed story. Considering that today good screenwriting is a rarity, this is yet another reason to congratulate Yassen Grigorov, who is not only the director, but also the author of the screenplay. Even if we strip off all the audiovisual art, Lilly the Little Fish will still make a great piece of literature. Appropriately, the film foregrounds storytelling by using almost uninterrupted voice-over narration from the beginning to the end. This not only amplifies the overall sense of childhood memory, but also allows the clear and unambiguous delivery of the author's message.
This leads to the second, less obvious but no less important, thing about Lilly the Little Fish - it is a truly brave film. It clearly takes the children's side against the inconsiderate, undignified, distrustful treatment they often receive from their parents, from schooling and health care institutions. It dares to suggest that for all our progress and apparent care, we are still failing our children - we are failing to really understand them, accept them for what they really are, love and trust them unconditionally.
Now, this touches a raw nerve, at least in Bulgaria, because the question of how we treat our children, at home and as a society, seems to be a question people try to avoid at all cost. They classify such questions as personal or a matter of tradition, pretend everything is fine, and become very angry and uncomfortable when someone tries to talk about them.
A very clear indication of this was the attack on Lilly the Little Fish in certain media immediately after its premiere. Critics manipulatively misinterpreted some of its innocent and well-meaning stereotypical oppositions to dismiss the film as gender-bending, tradition-breaking, gypsy-glorifying, etc. This development coincided with a misguided public debate in Bulgaria about the Council of Europe's Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, where ratification was officially put off due to concerns about the definition of gender and its relation to traditional values.
In reality, both intentionally misplaced reactions cover up deeper fears from opening up Pandora's box of domestic relations and the deeper attitudinal problems underlying education and health care failures. But, as Lilly the Little Fish clearly indicates, fear breeds distrust - distrust in oneself and distrust in others - which prevents us from moving forward, from safely looking posterity in the eye.
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