Saturday, March 13, 2010

Film Review - "Seamstresses"

So it is possible after all - a Bulgarian film that neither tries to fill cinema halls with outrage and cheap humour nor aims solely at the festival snobs with muddled pretenses. If audiences had every right to be skeptical about Bulgarian productions hitting the screen over many a year, this time around they are in for a sweet little surprise. Shivachki (Seamstresses) is no masterpiece that is going to place Bulgarian cinema on the world map with a loud bang, yet its simple and sincere charm is a small yet heartfelt step in the direction of finding what Bulgarian films keep forgetting they need - an audience.

This is a story of three young girls fleeing the depressing hopelessness as underpaid tailors for a foreigner boss. Katya (Violeta Markovska), Dora (Alexandra Surchadjieva), and Elena (Elen Koleva) come to Sofia with the shy hope of a better life only for the big city to try and take advantage of their naivete. Katya takes up a job as a waitress and ends up as the mistress of a pimp. The volatile Dora's disillusionment and bitterness takes aim at everyone and everything, including herself, while Elena does her best to pick up the pieces and keep their friendship together. Events flow with an unexpected ease and the audience can recognise and nod in agreement with the observant, if somewhat heightened, depiction of three possible ways to deal with the hardship in the big and hostile city.

The film does try to tell a story that does not aim to depress or elate, but which is simply based on life. The particularly refreshing thing is that writer and director Lyudmil Todorov goes about this task with certain humility - he seems to subscribe to the theory that one must first master the simple things in order to then be able to then stop using them. There are no attempts at bravura shots or stylistic pirouettes; the framing is straightforward and unobtrusive. For once the dialogue does not describe things the audience is already seeing; it is tight and evocative. The same goes for the performances; for once they are free from that irritating theatrical exuberance, which often adds insult to injury when recent Bulgarian films are concerned.

In view of this, it is not surprising that of the three young leads, the one faring worst is Surchadjieva, whom the script affords the most emotionally intense moments as the spiteful and feisty Dora. While nominally with the best pedigree among her young colleagues (she is familiar to the audience as the daughter of actors Yosif Sarchadjiev and Pepa Nikolova), she only skids on the surface of an admittedly difficult character despite her energetic approach. With Dora, the shadow of the actor is always on the character, which makes the performance of Koleva all the more startling. She is a gem of an actress turning in a gem of role as the quiet and forgiving Elena. Koleva is one of those rare actors who can express an emotion by simply thinking about it and the image of her strolling along in that blue hat and red jacket would probably by the lasting image that one would take home from this movie.

Her Elena comes about as a thoughtful counterpart to Audrey Tautou's Amelie, albeit living in a colder, dirtier and yet altogether more familiar world. It remains to be seen whether Shivachki will serve as a springboard for bigger and better things for her, but on this, evidence she is both capable and deserving of such. In fact, her persona and performance trace a conceivable path which Bulgarian films should take in order to make its piece with the audience - one of quiet charm, humility and awareness of one's identity.

Source - Sofia Echo


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