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BERGAMO 2023

Review: The Good Driver

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- Bulgarian documentary filmmaker Tonislav Hristov's fiction feature debut tells of a personal search for a place in the world against the backdrop of illegal immigrant smuggling

Review: The Good Driver
Malin Krustev and Gerasim Georgiev in The Good Driver

After a phase that focused mainly on the difficulty of integration, the hope of cultural contamination and the anxiety of uprooting, today geopolitical upheavals are pushing European cinema on migration to narrate the very act of displacement in space. A migrant who decides to leave temporarily or definitively abandons the space from which he or she comes, and embarks on an obstacle course that makes him or her a 'foreigner' as a result of a simple crossing – which is also a crossing of him or herself. This cinema is a genre in its own right, which is also drawn on to create stories of 'personal crossings'. This is the case with The Good Driver, by the established Bulgarian documentary filmmaker Tonislav Hristov, in his first fiction feature, now in competition at the Bergamo Film Meeting.

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Hristov's 2016 Sundance-selected doc The Good Postman [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
addressed both the refugee crisis and the depopulation of certain regions in South-Eastern Europe, focusing on a small Bulgarian village of 40 inhabitants on the border with Turkey. In Gran Dervent, the postman Ivan would like to take in the abandoned houses of the Syrian refugees crossing that stretch of border, in order to make the village survive. The Good Driver is a fictional spin-off of that documentary, with one of the characters, Ivan, working as a taxi driver at night in the seaside resort of Golden Sands, on the Black Sea coast, transporting tourists who drunkenly leave clubs with unlikely names like Malibu, Palm Beach, St. Tropez, Ibiza. He is saving his money to return to Finland where he has abandoned a wife and an 18-year-old son who never wants to see his father again. When things go wrong due to a misunderstanding that pits him against the criminals who run a nightclub, Ivan returns to his small town, penniless. And despite being an honest man, he finds himself involved in the trafficking of illegal migrants.

If Hristov, who has been living in Finland for more than 20 years, had chosen funny tones with the 2011 doc Rules of Single Life, in which four Bulgarian men were looking for women in Helsinki, here the only comedy scene is the opening one, in which Ivan and friends, immediately after his mother's funeral, take the place of four kids playing football in front of the cemetery. For the rest, The Good Driver is a tormented study of the relationships between places and individuals, with a protagonist who sees his purity shattered against a wall of opportunism, violence and prevarication. The hand of the documentary maker is visible behind the camera, which remains glued to the distressed face of Malin Krustev, constantly searching for a place in the world. In fact, the film's most beautiful shot is the one that comes closest to a documentary: a rapid sequence of the faces of Syrian migrants on the back seat of Ivan's taxi (with photography is by Orlin Ruevski).

In the screenplay penned by the director with Kaarle Aho and Konstantin Bojanov, there is also room for reflection on the classic theme of friendship. The only ones at the side of the mistreated protagonist are Elena (Slava Doytcheva), a young woman from the village who wants to leave for Germany 'to feel anonymous and finally human,' and Ludmil (Gerasim Georgiev), who accompanies an Ivan in search of forgiveness to Helsinki.

The Good Driver is a production by Finnish company Making Movies in co-production with Soul Food (Bulgaria), Cinenic Film (Sweden) and Film i Väst (Sweden).

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(Translated from Italian)

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