State or corporate corruption doesn’t always make for the most entertaining or cinematic yarns. However, with the correct script, well outlined characters and the performances to back them up, a project can achieve this in spades. Fortunately, Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s SLAVA has these in abundance.
Set in Bulgaria, the film is thematically a sequel to the pair’s 2014 feature THE LESSON – which starred Margita Gosheva as a school teacher who robbed a bank. She reappears here as Julia Stoykova, the cynical PR head of the Bulgarian Transport Ministry. Desperate to deflect attention from the myriad issues in Bulgaria’s state-run railways, she jumps on coverage of the honest and no-frills Tzanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov Kitodar). Tzanko finds a huge sum of money whilst doing his rounds on the local railway lines, opting to inform the authorities rather than pocket it – all whilst his colleagues snatch fuel and ridicule him for his honesty.
Bringing together the cynical and PR-driven Julia and her colleagues with the simple and honest Tzanko gives SLAVA several effective outlets. There is a gentle dark comedy to be had with Tzanko’s very fish-out-of-water times in Sofia, where he constantly frets about his pet rabbits back home and his outdated wardrobe. At the same time, the callous indifference with which he is treated emphasises the shallow and cynical nature of the work performed by the state PR wonks.
Kitodar’s performance as Tzanko is compelling, and the plot turns that lead him down his path play like a slow burning version of FALLING DOWN…
The central plot is catalysed by Julia taking Tzanko’s watch before an award ceremony (he is to receive a new one from the Minister for Transport). She neglects to give it back, and doesn’t much care when Tzanko tries to chase the ministry up to retrieve it. This small act has profound consequences on both sides, and the reaction of these two characters propels the rest of the film. Kitodar’s performance as Tzanko is compelling, and the plot turns that lead him down his path play like a slow burning version of FALLING DOWN: a simple man driven astray by the forces of the society around him. Aspects of Julia’s story – namely attempts to freeze embryos with her husband – may at first seem tangential but are in fact essential, showing how deep the cynicism penetrates.
The style and tone feel satirical at times, and the humour is there, but this is not IN THE LOOP. It is also a bleak film, there are no happy endings or comeuppance, and we are denied any feeling of triumphant resolution. Although the finer detail is naturally Bulgaria-centric, the wider themes will resonate with any society where it seems presentation has become more important in government and media than actual actions. Even the more sympathetically portrayed TV journalist doesn’t get away scot-free.
If SLAVA proves anything, it is that corruption doesn’t need absolute power: large scale indifference and selfishness can start a deep rot that spreads.
SLAVA received its UK premiere at the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Festival, winning Best International Feature Film.