Family Relics: The challenge of living in the present
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Ivan Cherkelov’s film received the Heart of the City of Varna Award at the 33rd Golden Rose Film Festival
Shown at the 33rd edition of the Golden Rose Film Festival, which showcases the newest Bulgarian features and short films, Ivan Cherkelov’s Family Relics [+see also:
film profile] won the second most important trophy, the Heart of the City of Varna. It also won an award from the Union of Bulgarian Filmmakers. The film, which shows the events experienced by the members of a family over a few days, relates to a certain feeling of disenchantment towards the present, a sentiment shared by many other recent Bulgarian features.
Starting off with a montage of atmospheric city scenes, Family Relics soon becomes an homage to the lush Bulgarian countryside. It is summer, and several characters, apparently unconnected to each other, are exploring the wild landscape. A husband and wife drive their all-terrain car over muddy roads in the forest; two half-brothers search for the psychiatric hospital where their father is locked up; and a teenage girl, alone in the family cabin, fills her day with random acts after breaking up with her boyfriend over the phone.
What impresses in Family Relics is how it uses dialogue and small gestures to stress not only the disappointment of the average Bulgarian, but also the lack of a higher meaning in the life of its characters. The film talks about the challenge of being Bulgarian in Bulgaria, the difficulty of being happy in the country and of coming of age there. “A small country of small people,” says one of the characters, a quip that brings to mind a similar perspective in Ivaylo Hristov’s Losers [+see also:
interview: Ivaylo Hristov
film profile]: “Loser – a person born in Bulgaria” is one of the lines from this year’s Golden Rose winner. Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov's The Lesson [+see also:
interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Val…
interview: Margita Gosheva
film profile], and Svetla Tsotsorkova's Thirst [+see also:
interview: Svetla Tsotsorkova
film profile] are other features that explore similar territory.
The film is bolstered by some very strong performances from several generations of Bulgarian actors. Alexander Benev, who may become the new Ovanes Torosyan of local cinema after playing main characters in both Thirst and Family Relics, is Mak, a teenager who meanders through the wilderness, waiting for an occasion to talk to his father (Ventsislav Zankov) in the hospital. Together with his brother Sancho (Blaje Dimitrov, also in another Golden Rose contender, The Woman of My Life), Mak represents the turning point in the story and a means to calibrate hope: his present is not haunted by mistakes he made in the past; therefore, there is hope for a better, meaningful future.
Famous Bulgarian actress Jana Karaivanova (also the host of a Bulgarian film festival in New York) and Andrey Andreev play a middle-aged couple who become stranded in the middle of the forest when their car gets stuck in the mud. She talks about faith, prayers and superstition, derided by her more practical husband, but her words suggest that something magical has been lost from her life. Other characters say or do absurd things that show an obvious lack of purpose, slowly, obstinately revealing the backbone of Cherkelov’s screenplay.