Zhaleika: Bulgarian mourning at the Berlinale
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Selected in the Generation sidebar, this DFFB production boasts one of the youngest crews ever introduced at the Berlinale
A collaboration between the Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie (DFFB) and the New Bulgarian University (NBU), Eliza Petkova’s Zhaleika [+see also:
film profile] is a Bulgarian-inspired feature set to be shown at this year’s Berlinale, although Germany is the production country. Selected in the Generation sidebar, the film tells the story of a girl who is expected by her small community to mourn the death of her father.
In Bulgarian, "zhaleika" is an item one uses in order to tell the world he or she is mourning. Stemming from the Slavic root of a word meaning "sorrow", the concept is at the core of the young protagonist’s story: when her father dies, 17-year-old Lora (Anna Manolova) wants to keep enjoying her youth, but her decision will incur the wrath of her family and neighbours, for whom mourning is compulsory.
The film, which is also in the running for the Best First Feature Award at the Berlinale, was written by Petkova, and produced by Svetoslav Draganov, representing the NBU, and Tim Oliver Schultz and Cécile Tollu-Polonowski, representing the DFFB. Constanze Schmitt was the DoP. Shooting took place in the Bulgarian village of Pirin last summer. The average age of the crew members was 26.
Petkova told Cineuropa that she wanted to “show mourning from the viewpoint of a young girl, a girl who doesn’t want to follow the rituals, who doesn’t consider herself a victim”. Svetoslav Draganov added: “Eliza's approach was very open and sincere, and I truly admire the result of her and her crew’s work, which is raw, painful and funny.”