Review: The Art of Falling
- Bulgarian first-time director Orlin Milchev comes up with a coming-of-age story in which mother and daughter are maturing simultaneously
In Orlin Milchev’s feature debut, art isn’t a key notion just in the title. The film shows an alcoholic mother who creates art in repeatedly failing attempts to reconnect with herself, while her introverted and vulnerable daughter tries to regain her self-esteem through martial arts. Both are on their way to discovering the art of mutual acceptance and the necessity of embracing their inevitable failures in order to re-establish troubled communication with their close ones. The Art of Falling [+see also:
film profile], which Cineuropa wrote about while it was still at the pre-production stage (read news), just had its premiere at the 40th Golden Rose Film Festival where it won the Best Debut award.
It's not easy to remain cheerful in the gloomy suburbs made up of concrete prefabricated buildings, inhabited by teenager Borislava (Elena Zamyarkova), her bipolar mother Maria (Aleksandra Surchadzhieva), and her grandfather Bore (Ivaylo Hristov). The premise for another depressing Eastern European movie lurks from the opening scene, which provides a lengthwise and crosswise view toward a scruffy and never-ending cityscape from Maria’s improvised rooftop studio — surroundings that imply there are not many options for escape. Everyone therefore seeks refuge in their own way: Maria in her daytime drinking, moody paintings, and addiction to doomed love affairs with dudes we never get to see; Borislava in her newly discovered passion for judo, an outlet for her anger after she was nearly raped at school; grandpa Bore in his determination to protect his girls at any rate. However, it is precisely his extra care that appears to be the source of their woes in the end, though revealing further details would be a spoiler.
In any case, more important than the denouement is Borislava’s uneasy but thrilling journey through the plot in which she encounters enemies but also a soul mate, a grumpy yet motivating teacher (Valeri Yordanov) who teaches her the value of discipline, and of course, true love (Dimitar Nikolov). She also gets to see her mother beyond her problems and finally investigates and meets her mysterious father (Ivan Burnev), long hidden by her family.
Healing from trauma and growing up through self-knowledge, as well as inner transformation, are central motifs in the film, written by Neda Filcheva and Marin Damianov, both experienced screenwriters. Alongside the way too neatly worked out causality of the plot, Milchev’s directing approach as a newcomer oscillates between timid creativity and a desire for audience approval, resulting in a style that mixes light arthouse touches and the mainstream. This vacillation probably explains the inconsistencies in the acting styles on display: Surchadzhieva’s expressiveness is rather theatrical next to Zamyarkova’s subtle naturalism, while Hristov and Yordanov — who happen to be filmmakers too — seem to be directing themselves. The close-ups and insightful interior shots by director of photography Emil Christov bring elegance to the overall melancholic palette of this debut, which feels somewhat unassertive as a piece of cinema. Nonetheless, the insecurity of Milchev’s directing style aligns him well with the shaky coming-of-age nature of the film and marks him as an author, fully identifiable with his main character.
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