Writer director Kamen Kalev’s first feature “Eastern Plays,” Bulgaria’s official Oscar submission will play at the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival.
An official selection at Cannes, the film won awards at Sofia, Warsaw, Bratislava and Tokyo International film festivals. Kalev’s shorts “Rabbit Troubles” ” Get the Rabbit Back” and “Orphée” were festival darlings, playing Cannes, Berlin and NY Film Festival, Sarajevo.
Kalev’s film became a tribute to his boyhood friend, artist and recovering addict Christo Christov, who died before the film wrapped. Christo played himself, turning in a remarkable performance that won him the posthumous Best Actor awards at the Tokyo and Bratislava film festivals.
On the film’s website Kaley said “he began to confide in me and I realized the depths of his despair. The difference between his seemingly peaceful and nonchalant self and his dire inner suffering fascinated me. He had no energy left to confront this destructive force inside.”
Based on episodes in Christo’s life, Kalev used his friend’s apartment-studio and workplace as locations. Christo was cast when Kaley was unable to find an actor to capture his complex charisma. He dominates the film.
Using a mixture of real people from Christo’s life (ex-girlfriend Niki Iancheva-playing herself) who simply refuses to break up with him. Her scenes develop into a thematic comic relief, as she wails, “I’m not suffering” as the sexist Christos’ neglects and ignores her.
With considerably less flash then other recent films form the ex-Soviet bloc Kalev captures the sense off hopelessness, rootlessness and depression that have come in the wake off enormous social and economic change. Almost documentary in feeling, Kalev’s fascinating look at Sofia’s troubling youth culture brings the Post-Soviet experience to life. Small observed moments; a sensitive ear for dialogue and a thorny sentimentality rescues the film from some ambitious over plotting.
Hooky playing teen Georgi (Ovanes Torosian) leaves in a dreary compound with his stern but ineffective father (Ivan Nalbantov) and his younger hairdresser wife (Hatice Aslan.) Georgi’s nihilist life leads him to join his pal Fish (Chavdar Sokolov), a member of a frightening neo-nazi skinhead gang, dominated by Drega (Alexander ‘The Indian’ Radanov). Drega orchestrates racist hooligans-for-pay (unbeknownst to them) for the local law and order politician.
His brother Itso (Christo Christov), a failed sculptor and recovering addict, is on a Methadone cure. His morning visits to the Methadone clinic punctuate his days. He dreams of renting a studio with his old Art School buddies, but nothing comes of it.
After a failed birthday dinner (Niki abandons the drunken selfish Itso at the restaurant) Isto stumbles on a vicious racist attack on a family of Turkish tourists. Drega and his gang (including novice Georgi as the watchdog) have beaten the Turkish patriarch almost to death while his wife and daughter watch. Itso fights them off, is beaten himself, and spots his fleeing brother in the gang.
At the hospital Itso and Isil (Saadet Isil Aksoy) bond, despite her father (Kerem Atabeyoglu) and mother’s (Hatice Aslan) warnings.