31 October, 2009

Svetat e golyam i spasenie debne otvsyakade (The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner) (2008)

Memory game

What if you lost everything, in an instant, that tethered you to your own existence? That's exactly what happens to Alex (Carlo Ljubek), when he is involved in a motorway car crash that leaves his parents dead and our protagonist without any memory of who he is, was, or where he's going.

But, in The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner (2008) by Stephan Komandarev (Alphabet of Hope (2004)), the road back to self-worth and self-knowledge has already been mapped out by his charismatic grandfather, Bai Dan (Miki Manojlovic) who takes the young man, kicking and screaming at first, away from the medical team, who rate his chances of recovery as minimal, on a journey into the past and the game of backgammon, which will be central to Alex's salvation. The pair once again begin playing the game together, and Alex's re-initiation into its secrets becomes a series of life lessons, about resisting despair and resignation, about the need to be master of one's own fate. The young man begins asking questions about his past....

As co-written with the director by Yurii Dachev (who also worked with Komandarev on Alphabet of Hope (2004)), The World Is Big... manages the rare trick of making a simple (but heartfelt) tale of life in Bulgaria during and after the reign of totalitarian socialism. While the regime's oppressors are portrayed in a somewhat one-dimensional fashion that renders them at times preposterously inhuman, the film's overall charm lies in the credible transition in Alex and Bai's relationship, which progresses from fear and mistrust on Alex's part into a painful but ultimately joyful acceptance of who he is.

Alex's present-day trials and tribulations are contrasted with the enormous risks taken by his own father and mother Vasko (Hristo Mutafchiev) and Yana (Ana Papadopulu) who choose to flee Socialist Bulgaria in the early 1980s and emigrate to Germany, there to hopefully find a better life for themselves and their son, as the parallel story reveals their reasons for fleeing Bulgaria and their ordeals in crossing the frontier illegally and making a temporary home in an Italian refugee camp.

One senses that Komandarev still needs a little more maturity as a director, with the film as a whole more than ocassionally descending into awkward contrivances, but this nevertheless lifts the spirit and provides a refreshing change from the gloom normally associated with Balkans cinema.

Awards: Click here for details.

105 mins. In Bulgarian, German, Italian and Slovenian.

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