The 11th Grade: dignity and choices
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Michaela Komitova’s first feature was screened at the 33rd Golden Rose Film Festival
A strong female protagonist and an informative approach to the challenges of both teachers and students, The 11th Grade – screened at the 33rd Golden Rose Film Festival – might not impress too many juries, but it may prove an attractive film for local cinemagoers, especially the younger ones, when Michaela Komitova’s first feature hits Bulgaria’s screens. Despite the familiar aspects of the screenplay, written by Nikolay Kolev, The 11th Grade teaches responsibility and manages to be a convincing coming-of-age story.
The film’s main actress, Yana Marinova, is responsible for a significant part of its appeal, and we are not talking about the actress’s exquisite looks, but the impressive dignity she lends to her character, Lina Nikolova, a former dance champion who reinvents herself as a literature teacher while dreaming about opening a dance studio. After waiting two years to be employed by a local school, Lina is beside herself with joy when she receives a call from an elite high school. Her enthusiasm soon subsides when she meets her students from the 11th grade: mean, aggressive and ignorant, they are more interested in flings, parties and drugs. One of their favourite hobbies is humiliating their teachers.
But what if Lina’s lack of experience is key to a new approach in her relationship with her students? Less a stern teacher and more an understanding, older and more experienced friend, Lina is sure from the very beginning that finding a middle ground in her communication with the class is of paramount importance. Her methods are the strengths of Kolev’s screenplay, but also a starting point for touching on more universal and general topics: responsibility, the clash between generations, but mostly the importance of making choices and accepting their consequences.
As is the case with Ivaylo Hristov’s Losers [+see also:
interview: Ivaylo Hristov
film profile], which may be one of the jury’s favourite entries in the competition, Komitova’s feature is a chance to see the youngest crop of new Bulgarian actors and actresses. The director surrounds the film’s star with promising talent. Even if the youngsters sometimes approach their parts as if in a TV series or a film made for television, they have significant potential to be the stars of the next decade of Bulgarian cinema.
Even at its most naïve moments (Nikolay Sotirov plays an older teacher, a leather jacket-clad charmer who will also prove himself to be a fist fight pro), the film impresses with its good-natured message. If the Bulgarian minister ever launches a cinema project targeted at the country’s high schools, Komitova’s film should be at the top of the list to be screened.