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Where it is possible to feel anonymous and remain human - Bulgarian Cinema.


From October 22-24, the Bulgarian Cultural Institute brought to Rome the Bulgarian Film Festival, three intense days of discussions, presentations and screenings of contemporary Bulgarian cinema. Because of the topics covered and the juxtaposition with so much read literature it reminded me of, I chose one: the feature film The Good Driver, 2023, (Bulgarian: "Добрият шофьор") by director Tonislav Hristov.




The main character, Ivan, a Bulgarian migrant to Finland, finds himself in financial ruin at one point, having started a business with money borrowed from his Finnish wife's father. He returns alone to Bulgaria, using his mother's illness as an excuse. Here he tries to save money, working as a taxi driver, hoping to be able to return and make it up to his wife and son whom he left alone and in debt. Things will gradually prove more complicated than Ivan had imagined: he eventually finds a son he had abandoned as a child, now grown up and hostile.


The human tragedy is blatant, with a sense of defeat, shame, and violent emotions crushing the heart. The world of emotions becomes more intense against the light because of the migrant condition. At one point in the film, the protagonist admits, "I could no longer cope with the stares of friends, acquaintances and relatives who said 'Here's another foreigner who didn't make it.' It was no longer me, but the foreigner who had failed to be like them.' The Western model is beautifully described by Elena, a friend of Ivan's who wants to go to Tübingen in Germany, to which he refers as a place where "it is possible to feel anonymous and remain human."


Bulgaria, on the other hand, is presented as a corrupt and backward land, steeped in betrayals, devouring passions and ancestral feelings, but where the value of friendship emerges powerfully. The actor who carries the film forward is an outstanding Malin Krustev, who carries the entire plot development on his shoulders, but the protagonist's reaction to events seems to remain constant on a psychological level, as if indicating an abandonment to fate.



The Good Driver
The Good Driver


The scene in the film The Good Driver, in which director Tonislav Hristov frames, through the always subjective camera, the migrants the protagonist is transporting, is of such lyricism and poetic power so dense with humanity that it provides one of the keys to reading the whole film and perhaps Bulgarian cinema: the man-multitude relationship on which it rages and multitude-man from which it is redeemed. How not to think of Elias Canetti. Bulgarian who wrote in German his work Crowds and Power (Masse und Macht) that delves into the psychology of crowds and the dynamics of power, revealing insights into the complexities of human behavior.


There are three spaces in the film and they are a study of the relationships between places and individuals: a region of Bulgaria in rapid economic growth; Golden Sands on the Black Sea, a small farming town from which Ivan comes; and Finland, where the dissolute climate of booming Bulgaria and the traditional legacies of the backward locality from which the protagonist comes provide a counterbalance.


The difficulty of integration, the hope and excitement of cultural contamination, the anxiety of uprooting, the desire to believe in a better life. There are flashes of happiness in the film, but they are illusory. Everything has a price.


Aleko Konstantinov's works, particularly his satirical novel "To Chicago and Back" (До Чикаго и назад), provided a sharp and similar critique of late 19th century Bulgarian society. Through the protagonist's trip to America and observation of Bulgarian and American societies, Konstantinov criticized social norms, corruption, and the challenges Bulgarians faced.


Large-scale geopolitical upheavals determine the lives of individuals, and still stubbornly men continue to believe in free will, almost like teenagers in front of their smartphones, raised to the myth of those who show they have made it, in newspapers, in books, in Instagram reels. But within the Story strenuously advances everyone's real life, which everyone builds with their own difficulties and dilemmas. The migrant pays double everything: joys and abuse, pride and pain, everything is perceived in an amplified way, even the mistakes we all make, but for those in a foreign geographic, cultural, and social space, everything hits harder. This is where the second illusion occurs: where we were we would be better off, we begin to mythologize the homeland, but as Cesare Pavese said:


"there is nothing more uninhabitable than a place where we have been happy"

We are all but innocent of the general suffering of which we are prisoners.


A migrant who chooses or is forced to leave temporarily or permanently abandons the places, people and culture from which he comes, and by this simple crossing he undertakes a kind of mythopoiesis in the figure of the "foreigner," his alter-ego that effects his whole way of being. Whoever undertakes a migration, also undertakes a journey within himself, is ready and must erase a part of himself to make room for another language and other criteria for his decisions.


Bulgarian literature often delves into exploring the complexity of human values and consciousness as a result of moral choices and ethical dilemmas that individuals face in society. The patriarch of Bulgarian literature, Ivan Vazov, became a prominent figure in a Bulgaria in the midst of resurgent ferment, eager to break free from the rule of the Ottoman Empire with his novel Under the Yoke (Под игото). The tranquility is only superficial: people are silently preparing for an uprising. The characters in the novel face important moral decisions that impact their lives and the liberation struggle.


The social realism movement in Bulgarian literature is embodied in the works of Geo Milev, such as his poetry collection Septemvri (Септември), which portrays the harsh reality and struggles of the Bulgarian working class.


These references, many of international renown, show the multifaceted nature of Bulgarian culture, of which the film The Good Driver depicts an example.


The spirit of Bulgarian culture captures the essence of moral choices, social realism, complexity of human nature, and critique of modern society. Each author brings a unique perspective to these themes, enriching the cultural landscape heritage of humanity.

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