Review: The Last Seagull
- In his seventh feature-length documentary, Bulgaria’s Tonislav Hristov portrays an “endangered species” of a character while disclosing curious details about a very local phenomenon
Derived from the environment of The Good Postman [+see also:
film profile], which took place in a severely depopulated Bulgarian village, and spiritually related to the displaced protagonist of The Good Driver [+see also:
film profile], the main character in The Last Seagull [+see also:
interview: Tonislav Hristov
film profile] completes the group portrait of men painted in Tonislav Hristov’s films. They all happen to have reached turning points in their lives and are forced to make crucial decisions. The film has just premiered in the International Competition of the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, almost in parallel with The Good Driver, which also celebrated its world premiere at Thessaloniki back in November and will soon be locking horns with other titles in the Sofia International Film Festival’s main competition.
The Last Seagull starts off with secretly shot archival excerpts plucked from Hristo Kovachev’s short documentary Seagulls (1977), which spots anonymous, worldly-wise Casanovas on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast as they hit on (mainly and preferably) Western tourists with excessive gallantry. At that time, the country’s closed-off nature as it was trapped in the grip of the communist regime seemed eternal, and thus the film gets straight to the point from the very beginning – flirting with foreign women was not simply a fun activity, but it also opened doors to worlds that were barely accessible back then.
In the present day, the film hunts down one of those cosmopolitan dreamers who travelled the world through his romantic conquests – and who also managed to pay the bills thanks to his charms, at least on a seasonal basis. In the next few scenes, we will get acquainted with Ivan, a former beach lifeguard who appears in The Good Postman as well, and who is still up to his old tricks in an attempt to get his life sorted and settle down with a prosperous lady in the twilight years of his masculine glamour.
From testimonies that are laid bare in front of the camera, but also from his friends’ conversations and phone calls, we get to learn about his numerous affairs and failed attempts to live abroad with various women, and also about his new grandson in Ukraine, from a son who has cut off all contact with him. Trapped between penury, advancing years and his naturally fading light-heartedness, Ivan faces the need to take responsibility for his own life by clarifying key mistakes from the past and the present, so that his future prospects do not remain hopelessly blurry.
With sunny sequences put to good use to depict existentially cloudy days, and with a moderately paced rhythm and skilful editing that adds to this male companion’s intriguing personal story, The Last Seagull is easygoing and fun to watch. In fact, it’s so delightfully entertaining that the serious questions one may ask oneself arise only after the viewing experience. Such as, for example, what is the future of Ivan’s deserted, remote birthplace in a country that is itself on the periphery of a continent and, as such, has always been dependent on external forces to determine its fate? Are lessons learned from the past able to stave off looming catastrophe? Where do you draw the line between creative documentary aesthetics and those of reality TV in a film that follows its real-life protagonist so closely during his emotional ups and downs?
The film provides no answers, only food for thought.
The Last Seagull is a co-production between Finland’s Making Movies and Bulgaria’s Soul Food.
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