This year, for the first time the Motovun Film Festival took place in Delnice, another town in Croatia. The film selection was truly enchanting and the main prize was awarded to the beautifully crafted Falcon Lake, directed by Charlotte Le Bon. Beyond its obvious charm and the mysterious aura emanating from this phantasmal coming-of-age story, the film resonated deeply with the festival. With its vast forests and wooden cabins, we often found ourselves questioning whether we were in the Croatian Delnice or near the Quebecois lake featured in the film. It was a truly dizzying experience.
During the festival, another film received recognition with the Press Award. Blaga’s Lesson, the latest work by Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev, known for his previous films such as The World is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner (Svetat e golyam i spasenie debne otvsyakade, 2009) and Directions (Posoki, 2017).
Blaga, a retired teacher, had diligently saved her meager savings to provide her husband with a dignified burial. However, she falls victim to a phone scam and loses everything she possesses. Her world crumbles. While the premise of a character losing everything may seem familiar, Stephan Komandarev deftly navigates an intriguing and unexpected trajectory for his character. Blaga is a woman of unwavering principles who tolerates no mistakes, neither in the language she teaches nor in her own life. She gradually resorts to more drastic measures to survive. The director challenges the morality and purity of his character as she, in turn, becomes involved in the scams. Komandarev’s direction is precise, allowing his character to shine. Notably, there’s a terrifying scene where Blaga watches elderly people passing by her window. In this vampiric shot, Blaga takes control of the situation, as she evolves from a victim into a sort of tormentor.
Her transformation is not merely internal and self-inflicted; it is also a consequence of a blind society. From the money-driven funeral employee showing no compassion to the ineptitude of the police in aiding the victim, or even in the politicians who exploit the situation without offering real solutions, the film highlights the lack of support for the most vulnerable people. While Blaga is in desperate need of help, the characters she encounters only reflect selfishness and greed, either through their ineffectiveness or manipulative tactics. This corrosive portrayal of Bulgarian society, which could easily be applicable to many other nationalities, compels us to reconsider how older individuals, those in need and, more broadly, those on the fringes of society are treated.
Eli Skocheva delivers an impeccable performance, keeping us captivated from start to finish. She infuses Blaga with her characteristic rigidity and commitment to correctness, as evident in her constant correction of spelling errors she hears around her. While this character trait may seem forced, Skocheva anchors it in the reality of her character, making it apparent that she has been doing this her entire life. For the actress, Stephan Komandarev’s film marks her triumphant return to the big screen after a 35-year hiatus. It is nothing short of mesmerizing, almost meta, as she embodies this strong woman determined to take control of her destiny. Her performance was duly recognized at the recent International Film Festival Karlovy Vary, where the film also received the Grand Prix “Crystal Globe”. When we watch her ascend the hill crowned by the city’s memorial, it appears as if the weight of the world rests on her shoulders, but the determination in her eyes suggests that she can overcome any challenge.
Edited by Birgit Beumers
© FIPRESCI 2023