By Dan Sareen.
It is often the case in life that we seem to be rewarded for no apparent reason, only for that reward to decay slowly into a nightmare, or is that just me? In Bulgarian language drama Glory, railway lineman Tzanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov) arrives at work one day to find millions in cash spilled on to the tracks. After reporting this, Tzanko finds himself victimised by the transport ministry’s head of PR, Julia Staykova (Margita Gosheva), who uses him as a pawn in her efforts to spin the story.
It is clear from the first frame that the main focus of this film will be its characters. Tzanko sets his watch to the second by the talking clock, and struggles to converse through a heavy stutter. From his look and demeanour, we are reminded of Emilio Echevarria’s quietly menacing El Chivo in Amores Perros. But there is little strength hidden in Tzanko, and the effectiveness of Denolyubov’s performance comes from the character’s malleability and willingness to be manipulated by almost every other character. Julia, on the other hand, is a whirlwind of power. Immediately recalling Tilda Swinton’s perma-sweating Karen Crowder from Michael Clayton, Julia puts her job far ahead of her personal life, neglecting her husband and her biological clock in pursuit of a media win. It is this juxtaposition of characters that drives the main body of the story, when Julia takes Tzanko’s beloved watch with the promise to return it, and instead misplaces it.
Once we reach this main section of the film, the script is reminiscent of last years I, Daniel Blake. Tzanko is stuck in a bureaucratical loop trying to retrieve his watch, forcing him to turn to extreme solutions. The difference here is that, while Daniel Blake only had a faceless government body to blame for his predicament, Tzanko’s antagonist is personified by Julia, not necessarily by the corrupt transport ministry or the railway service. This is perhaps the script’s biggest issue, as it asks you to pick a side between the two people in conflict, when perhaps the aim was a satirising comment on modern day politics. The decision in itself is quite difficult because it is hard to like both characters. Julia is so driven that she is self centred and unkind, and almost impossible to relate to. Tzanko, however, is easy to sympathise with but empathy is problematic because of his innate weakness and compulsive obsessions. It is neither characters fault that they are in this situation, but their actions don’t really assist them in any way in getting out of it.
As a third effort from directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, there isn’t much to complain about. With a style not dissimilar to Asghar Farhadi’s films set in Iran, the directors ground the piece in the gritty realism of the city, sacrificing a score in favour of the soundscape of life. The two take a hyper critical stance on the media on both sides of a political issue, and draw out piercing performances from their two leads. It is only in the final act of the film that Tzanko is fully revealed to the audience, cosmetically and personally, and it is this patience and masterful slow build that show Grozeva and Valchanov are ready for something bigger on their fourth outing. Perhaps it is this facet of the film that won it the top prize at Edinburgh International Film Festival, and secured it as Bulgaria’s choice for the Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards this year.
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