Dark humour pervades this story of a simple, honest man who gets promoted after reporting the find of a large amount of cash. He then gets labelled as a national hero as he is used as a PR diversion in a corruption scandal.
Co-directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s “Glory” confirms the advanced promise shown in their award-winning narrative debut, “The Lesson.” Largely working with the same exceptionally talented cast and crew, the duo paints a damning portrait of contemporary Bulgarian society fragmented by class and the rural-urban divide, where corruption is a given and even muckrakers ignore the human quotient in their politicized race to bring down their targets. Shot with flexible naturalism by Krum Rodriguez (DP on “Victoria” as well as “The Lesson”), the film quietly builds to a feeling of inexorable disaster, guided by terrific performances as well as spot-on editing. Festivals will be sure to offer welcoming slots in their programs, followed by a likely limited European art-house run.
“Glory” is an exact translation for the Russian watch brand Slava, though the title is meant to resonate beyond the beloved timepiece. The importance of time is a key element in the film, as multiple clocks — biological as well as temporal — are inescapably present from the opening moment, when a voice announces the time down to the second. As railroad linesman, Tsanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov) assures his watch is accurate, he listens with half an ear to the TV and a report on government corruption; these two form the main themes of “Glory,” radiating toward a fateful dark conclusion. Honest Tsanko, looking like a graying unmade bed and saddled with a major stutter, finds a couple of large-denomination bills worth approximately $85 on the rails. Since he earns only about twice that amount each month, it could be considered quite a windfall, but then he sees a great pile of dumped cash, and he reports it to the police. The Ministry of Transport is thrilled to use Tsanko’s good deed as an opportunity to combat perceptions of in-house corruption by staging an award for the upright railwayman.
The ministry’s PR chief, Julia Staikova (Margita Gosheva), orchestrates the whole charade, but has to juggle press conference planning with fertility treatments that include daily injections. Her sweet husband Valeri (Kitodar Todorov) reminds her of her shots, but Julia is more focused on ensuring that country bumpkin Tsanko makes her boss look rosy. At the conference, she bullies him to remove his watch, obviously a meaningful keepsake, to put on the crappy digital one he’s awarded for being an honest citizen — the starkly pale patch on his otherwise brown wrist mutely says all that’s needed about the watch’s importance. Once it’s over, the officious Julia pats herself on the back and refuses to clutter her mind with thoughts of Tsanko. But she took his Glory, and he wants it back.
For Julia, time is something to combat, whether it’s scrambling to contain the fallout from an unflattering news report or staving off the tick-tick-tick of her biological clock. In her bossy manner, superior airs, and urban-sexy business attire, she’s very much of the moment, viewing Tsanko like a representative of a backward era. For him, time is a means of symbiotically regulating life, like the train schedule or the feeding timetable for his pet rabbits; Julia robs him of this, which deprives him of his dignity. In retaliation he contacts investigative journalist Kiril Kolev (Milko Lazarov), but the reporter is more interested in exposing government corruption than helping this man gain respect.
Directors Grozeva and Valchanov carefully balance the two stories, weaving in just enough detail to deepen distinct psychological profiles which are beautifully brought out by the leads, both of whom made a lasting impression in “The Lesson.” From Tsanko’s reticent demeanor and quiet poise to Julia’s projection of dismissive superiority, both Denolyubov and Gosheva forcefully convey two sides of Bulgaria: one represents its roots, and the other a misshapen branch extending far beyond the trunk. The film’s one misstep is in the characterization of Julia and Valeri’s marriage, since his perpetual good nature combined with her cold ambition make for an unconvincing couple, though a funny scene where they fumble in a conference room with her first injection, while she hides her semi-undressed state wrapped in an EU flag, is a gem of amused, shared intimacy.
Visually, “Glory” hones to the kind of omnipresent realism that could remind some viewers that Bulgaria and Romania occasionally share more than just a geographical border. Valchanov’s editing knows how to get maximum effect from cutting just before expected, and the gut-punch finale, accompanied by a deliberately incongruous jazz tune, is a lesson in understated off-camera trepidation. Jay Weissberg, Variety, 5th August 2016
There’s a moment in Easy Rider when Peter Fonda looks at his watch and throws it away. Perhaps he had the right idea. No timepiece since Christopher Walken’s uncomfortable Pulp Fiction monologue has caused as much trouble as the one at the centre of this pitch-black comedy. Following on from their tremendous 2014 dramedy The Lesson, the second film from Grozeva and Valchanova’s “newspaper cuttings trilogy” confirms the Bulgarian directing duo among European cinema’s most thrilling talents.
Honest railway linesman Tsanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov) discovers a pile of cash (worth around €85 or twice his regular monthly salary), and reports the find to the police. With the government under fire for corruption, the Ministry of Transport is keen to spin a good news story around this honest worker.
While juggling with hormone injections (and her own biological clock), the ministry’s cynical PR chief, Julia Staikova (The Lesson’s Margita Gosheva) stages a ceremony for the bedraggled Tsanko, during he which he’s asked to remove the Russian “Slava” (or “Glory”) watch that was given to him by his deceased father so that he might put on the digital one he is being presented with.
Tsanko may be a reclusive, stuttering countryman with only rabbits for company, but he wants his watch back. The ensuing fallout mines urban-rural, generational and class divisions. For Julia, the callous political class, and other Sofia contemporaries – including the investigative journalist (Milko Lazarov) who Tsanko calls in – the hard-working platelayer, like his watch, is an irrelevant relic of the Soviet era.
With a nod to gallows humour and topicality of films from neighbouring Romania, Grozeva and Valchanova’s escalating tragicomedy is firmly rooted in reality (if Ken Loach or the Dardennes did farce, it might look like this). The narrative is as precise as the titular timepiece. Tsanko and Julia’s stories are deftly and economically interwoven; every moment is a set-up or a pay-off. Tsanko’s gradual descent into obsession and vengeance is entirely sympathetic; against all odds, Gosheva brings heart to her politicised city slicker. The clocks motif – both mechanical and biological ticking – is never laboured. Krum Rodriguez, the DP on Victoria, ensures the cinematography is as fluid and organic as the plotting.
Never mind the juggernaut franchises: the final instalment in this trilogy can’t come soon enough.
Tara Brady. The Irish Times, 25th January 2018.
|16 (25%)||36 (57%)||8 (13%)||2 (3%)||1 (2%)|
Total Number of Responses: 63
Film Score (0-5): 4.02
119 members and guests attended the screening of Glory. Thanks to the 63 people who responded providing a hit rate 53%.
‘Glory’ was a film that provoked strong reactions and a couple of Brexit comments too: “Time to come out of the EU!!”, “Makes Brexit look like a good decision”. “Thank goodness we live in the UK”. “Compelling” said one member, “Such simplicity with such humour”, “Nothing mainstream about this movie. Wonderful!” “Great film but painful to watch as all too near the truth”. “A onetime watch film”. “Very realistic”. The corrupt content of the film was commented on; “A powerful depiction of how corruption destroys lives”, "Disturbing – an alarming tale of the horrors of corruption and state power“, “Simple innocence destroyed in a network of painful corruption”.
There were also comments on the acting in the film: “Great performances, especially Tzanko”, “Acting was so good, I was riveted even when nothing happened: Depressing of course.” “Excellent acting”, “Most riveting acting”, “Excellent lead performances“. “Very well acted”, “Totally believable characters, so well-acted. Rather cruel with humour divided against a speech impediment”. Planning your next holiday? Some members are clearly not putting Bulgaria top of the list: “Great insight into Bulgarian culture. Interesting juxtaposition of subject matter”, “Sad comment on Bulgarian society”. "I've crossed Bulgaria off my must see list!" "I’ve gone off Bulgaria!"
Many of you commented on the emotional content of the film, “Very moving’, “Sad and harrowing”, “Very sad, very disturbing. Am left thinking, what happened to the rabbits”, “Leaves a (no doubt intentionally), nasty taste on several fronts”. “Honest, powerful and distressing”, “Clever, amusing, very, very sad and depressing”. “What an ending!” said one member and they were not alone: ”The ending was enigmatic – draw your own conclusions”, “Good storyline, kept us guessing right up to the end how it was going to pan out”, “Truth always pays? An implied ending…Was it what it seemed…a clever way of ending an unusual film which defies being of any genre”. “Another one with an ending to make you jump”, “Unconvincing quick sober to drunk scene at end, though necessary for the story line“. Another member commented, "I want to see part two! A good film. The themes of time & honesty…on so many different levels explored in a well put together story. I was involved all the way. Sometimes honesty comes too late!” “What a different and absorbing film. Julia was brilliantly unlikeable and Tzanko so easy to feel sympathy for. Both very well-acted, particularly Tzanko. An uncomfortable ending that left you wondering but assuming the worst – however much of a bitch Julia was I wasn't sure she deserved that! After a few "different" films in the opening weeks, the season is shaping up well. Thanks”
“Good film, different perspective, interesting ending”, “Well paced, understated…a powerful film as a result”. Some found the film, “A little overlong... But a good story and too true to life in some countries”. “Thank goodness we live in the UK”, “Bit slow but very realistic”, “A bit too blank for me”. “Rather depressing, slow moving”. “A bit boring and rambling”. One member said that they had never given a poor rating before, “But I found this really horrible and gruelling to watch”. “Would have been all right if it had not tried to be comic. Not funny!”, “Thin story”, “A very disappointing evening. Not a ‘nice’ film”.
The film clearly affected members: “One of the most powerful films I have seen.” “Rather off beat and I thought very good”. “Captivating, shocking, sad…different lives colliding”. “Great film. Really interesting storyline”. “Superb acting and well-structured story, with moments of humour but an over-riding feeling of exasperation and increasing dread. The poor, humble, honest Tsanko remains impressively stoic throughout his increasingly despicable ordeal. A simple careless act by the horrendously selfish and increasingly nasty Julia (excellently portrayed) spirals out of control to a tragic finale. An impressive if despairing look at everyday immortality".
“Fine nuanced character studies”, “Some of the narrative was a little trite and predictable. PR character also not consistently believable. Why would she care if he had died?”
The unusual cinematography was also commented on; “Excellent camera work, use of close up shots.” “Very well filmed”, “skilled cinematography”, ‘Beautifully filmed”, “Didn’t really like the photography”. ” Jumpy camera work”.
“I am reminded of Boys from the Black Stuff – funny but painful and all too plausible. The fact that the film flowed so well is presumably a tribute to the filmmakers, but it’s harder to see what’s wrong than what’s right”.
“I enjoyed “GLORY” although it took a while to understand why……. so slow. Then the end made you realise it was worth watching and a GOOD film”.