Losers: An endearing coming-of-age story
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Ivaylo Hristov’s black-and-white dramedy introduces young and promising Bulgarian actors
Five years after competing at the Moscow International Film Festival with his second feature, Footsteps in the Sand, actor-director Ivaylo Hristov is again vying for the festival’s top award, the Golden George, with his playful, black-and-white teenage drama Losers [+see also:
interview: Ivaylo Hristov
film profile]. An endearing coming-of-age story, Losers introduces fresh and very interesting young actors who may become the big names of Bulgarian cinema over the next decade.
The story follows Koko (Ovanes Torosyan, also the lead in Yavor Vesselinov’s Adultery [+see also:
film profile]), a high-school student from an unnamed small town in southern Bulgaria. With his parents working in neighbouring Greece, Koko has to take care of his grandmother, an Alzheimer’s patient who is impossible to keep under control. Koko is in love with Elena (Elena Telbis), but she doesn’t have eyes for him, as she dreams about becoming a singer while having spectacular rows with her alcoholic mother (Kristina Yaneva).
Hristov, also a screenwriter, uses the hugely advertised gig by a famous rock band in order to build a contrast between the quiet provincial town and the so-called freedom of the band’s members. “It’s like a bomb has gone off here,” says one of the band members after arriving in Elena and Koko’s town. “I’ve got no signal,” adds another, lifting his smartphone into the air.
But is the grey, bleak town a place where dreams are crushed, or just a hard soil from which the most beautiful roses grow? Or maybe the band’s freedom is merely a different kind of prison? The director takes his time to answer these questions, but in the meantime, the audience is treated to beautiful frames and endearing moments of friendship or rebellion. It is surprising, though, that the film was shot in black and white by DoP Emil Hristov: the story takes place in the present day, and this artistic choice seems somewhat artificial, even if it stresses the fact that Koko and his friends live in a world of lead, squeezed down by the crushing force of gravity.
Losers succeeds in conveying its far-from-subtle message (“Loser – a person born in Bulgaria,” says one of the characters) in a cheerful tone that may attract significant numbers of viewers to Bulgarian cinemas for the film’s premiere. Hristov peppers his story with poetic and funny moments: a girl named Girl (Yovana Yordanova, the star of the film’s final few seconds) plays with a dog named Dog; Koko’s grandmother gives him the slip on a draisine; a teacher scolds a nerdy student for not having gone to the concert, and so on. These are moments that suggest that playful energy is a means of escaping from the town’s tranquil life.
Ovanes Torosyan and Elena Telbis are surrounded by a host of interesting actors. Georgi Gotsin and Plamen Dimov play Gosho and Patso, Koko’s best friends, ready to do anything in order to get hold of tickets to the concert, while better-known Deyan Donkov is Nicky, the singer and frontman of the band. Hristov’s generous screenplay gives them all occasions to shine.