Do You Believe Everything?

in 27th Warsaw International Film Festival

by Dean Kotiga

Konstantin Bojanov’s fiction feature debut tells the story of Kamen (Ovanes Torosian) who, after having received a certain piece of news at his college, takes off on a hitch-hiking trip from Sofia to Ruse. He is soon joined by an unknown girl named Avélina, or Avé (Angela Nedialkova). Many issues arise between them, as well as between us (the audience) and them (the characters), best summed up by Gauguin in the title of the key work of his final phase: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” During the film we find out that Kamen is travelling to the funeral of a friend who had committed suicide, while Avé is running from a difficult family situation, making up stories about herself and Kamen for the drivers that pick them up, which really gets on his nerves. Eventually they become close, and then one morning he wakes up with her gone, only to start making up stories on his own, beginning with the same one Avé started off with.

First of all, I feel a great need to break the impression that many viewers gained, which is in accordance with the director’s statement in which he defines the film as a coming-of-age story. Not only does it (as always) sound pretentious, but it is also completely incorrect. Granted, we could make the claim that at the end of the film Kamen is not the same character he was at the onset, enforced by the lyrics of the end credits song, Catherine Feeny’s words: “The world’s the same but something’s changed”. But it is important to note that the film in question is not, as the title suggests, about Kamen, but a film about Avé. She does not change one bit (rather, she ends up lying, just as she did in the beginning, still travelling with no direction in mind), her impossibility to change stressed further by Feeny’s refrain: “You better run, little girl” directed at her, which instantly overshadows the lyrics referring to Kamen. In addition, he is marked by a blue hoodie, she by a red jacket, and although the film is dominated by blue hues (the telephone, train seats, doors in the deceased’s house…) in order to fool the viewer into believing Kamen is in charge of the situation, it is more than evident Avé is the centre of the whole film. Therefore music is first heard in the sequence in which Avé is alone for the first time, and one of the most lucid points in the film is Kamen’s T-shirt colour, one that he wears underneath his blue hoodie — it is, of course, red, signalling to the viewer’s subconscious that all of the blue that appears later on is just a superstructure on the base, the red, on Avé herself. Although there are several more interesting details regarding colours (e.g. the first car they enter is red, as is the steering wheel of the car they are kicked out of, after which they have a fight and separate for the first time), our focus will stay on the stated, most apparent ones. Another very well thought-out component of the film is the way in which Kamen gradually falls under Avé’s influence. At first he rejects her, then hugs and holds her, eventually even wears the sunglasses she picked up along the way, and ends up inventing stories on his own — he himself almost becomes Avé.

Attention should also be paid to the constant reconsideration and changing of perspective. At the very beginning, Kamen doubts Avé with aversion. He is unpleasantly surprised, even irritated with her inventing tall tales, as are we, but gradually finds out more about her and ends up with a positive view of those fictitious stories. Our perspective as viewers changes over time as well. However, at least in my case, it does return to the initial distrust and condemnation, as I am not sure how many of us will approve of Avé’s lying at the very end of the film, since it signals a type of surrender, displaying an inability to stop running in circles – just like the side character of the trucker, who starts off indifferent towards the couple, grows interested and ends up threatening and yelling at them. Our uncertainty is fed even further by Avé’s distrust of her mother, as well as the urge that the deceased’s family has to come up with another cause of death for the public because suicide would defame the whole family. Nothing we see should be taken for granted, because in a split second it can turn upside down and reveal another side to the story, which is exactly what the key sentence of the film, Avé asking Kamen: “Do you believe everything?” refers to. Perspectives and judgements incessantly change, and the only constant is the fact of change itself.

What I find most interesting, though well-hidden, is the metatextual subtext of the film which, according to some theories that might be a bit outdated, should be a cornerstone in all quality art. Konstantin Bojanov’s contribution could easily be called Film, due to the relationship of Kamen and Avé that so faithfully mirrors the relation of the audience and cinema. Film, and art in general, simply bursts into our lives and treats us in a thoroughly perplexing way, acting in a manner that can even repulse us, but once we develop feelings for it and start loving it, thinking we have finally begun to understand it, it suddenly disappears from our lives without any explanation whatsoever. Avé enters Kamen’s life in exactly the same manner, only to vanish from it accordingly. Nonetheless, the invaluable time spent with her changes Kamen’s life, in the same manner in which every (good) film does for an audience, attested to further by his repeating her first lies (life imitates art, not the other way around). The last shot and Avé’s last words, telling the driver her brother lives in Hollywood where he just directed his first film, leading to his question about her becoming an actress, explicitly ascertains the metatextuality. Finally, do the film and the title character not share the central point of art as such — telling stories? Storytelling not only as the only meaning of being, as in the title of Márquez’s autobiography “Living to Tell the Tale”, but as its only option, described by Nietzsche long before me or Bojanov, in claiming that “we have art in order not to die of the truth”. It’s easy enough to forget about the seemingly irrelevant beginning of the film after eighty minutes of increasing and receding breeziness, overlooking the fact that Kamen, as a student at an Academy of Art, is an artist himself. Moreover, this is the only piece of information we are provided about him during the whole film. In addition, we should mention that the excellent part of the mildly demented grandfather — who in the middle of the wake starts playing the accordion and singing out loud — was played by Bruno S., who was, along with Kinski, Herzog’s favourite actor and who played both Kaspar Hauser and Stroszek, the latter role specifically written for him. Taking into account the time that Bruno really did spend in mental institutions, together with the legendary scene in Stroszek in which he plays the accordion, it becomes evident that his role in Avé is actually that of himself, real and fictional, making it difficult to even imagine a better meta/intertextual moment. Bojanov`s lucidity is manifested at its best in these (often hidden) witticisms, almost asking for an additional effort from the viewer, but simultaneously maintaining the functionality of the narrative if the said effort is not recognised or made. (By the way, by chance this film ended up being the last of only six film roles of the legendary B. Schleinstein.)

It is evident that Avé has more than one level of interpretation and that it offers much more than it may seem to at first glance. This taken into account, a big mistake is made, and it is a wrongdoing against the film itself, to define it as a “Bulgarian coming-of-age roadie”. It really does sound dreadful, but, take my word for it, in fact it is exactly the opposite.