Stylized idealization is a technique that is frequently applied to films all across the globe. In essence the pursued outcome is the construction of an image of a country (or people living in it), so that the international audience can get a certain idea of what life is like (or was like) in that country. If you have seen any Hollywood films you have seen that technique in use and the same is valid for the majority of the government funded cinema in Europe.
But what happens if a director decides to deviate from the expected conformity and present shockingly accurate and realistic portrayals of everyday life in a certain place? In many countries, nothing major will result aside from a possible R rating of the film. However, this is not so in Bulgaria – an East European country for which the saying "In some countries there is Mafia, in Bulgaria the Mafia has a country " applies.
Four years ago, during the height of a scandal about a Bulgarian film by Alexo Petrov called Baklava, I wrote an article about it. At the time I was unable to review it as the corrupt media in the country (mainly the television channels BTV and Nova TV) orchestrated this scandal under the false pretense of "caring for the nation’s youth".
As a result, for years the film was banned in the country and the director was accused of various crimes (not an uncommon procedure of dealing with the different and inconvenient people and ideas in Bulgaria). Finally, after years of waiting, I was able to see the film yesterday. I was not shocked or repulsed. Yes, the film featured some controversial scenes that could justify its R rating, but in no way was it more shocking than say Larry Clark's 1995 film Kids, Thirteen (2003) or the Polish movie Swinki (2003).
Baklava is presented in a simple narrative. Essentially it's a road movie that tells the story of Jorre (Nikolay Yanchev) who returns to his country after years of traveling across Europe. He discovers that, while many things he remembers from his childhood have remained the same, the new "democratic" society has developed new “values”. He also learns that he has a brother who has been given to an institution at birth. Jorre visits the orphanage and collects the now nine-year-old Kotze (Hristo Herun). Together they embark on a journey to search for a buried treasure and, in the process, rediscover themselves!
A voice-over narration is utilized at the beginning and end of the film achieving a "modern fairy tale atmosphere" in the otherwise almost documentary aesthetics of Balkava. Arguably the underlying purpose of the movie is social reform. Aside from the two protagonists mentioned above, the arguement can also be made that the Bulgarian society as a whole almost takes on the role of a third protagonist. Director Petrov utilizes an objective point of view, allowing the audience to observe and create their own interpretations of the action as it unfolds.
At appropriate moments freeze frames are used to provide yet another societal reflection point. Warm colors give a surreal look to sunsets, fields and mountains – thus enhancing the magical appearance and natural beauty of Bulgaria. Last, but not least, I was impressed with the film's musical score, specifically its blending of drum and base beats, R and B and traditional folklore songs.
Why is this film considered of the Coming-of-Age genre if the main concern about Baklava is social criticism. For one, Jorre (at 21) and Kotze (at 9) are representatives of two distinct generations – influenced by and influencing the society in which they live. And, while their initial goal is to find a treasure, they find that the real treasure is the rediscovery of their own selves.
Baklava (2007) teaser