Saturday, January 30, 2010

The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner **

Director: Stephan Komandarev
Cast: Miki Manojlovic, Carlo Ljubek
Hristo Mutafchiev, Ana Papadopulu, Dorka Gryllus
Lyudmila Cheshmedzhieva, Vasil Vasilev-Zueka

The need to trivialize history has almost become a film genre of its own in the last two decades. Apparently some filmmakers noticed that stories of enlightenment amidst sociopolitical disasters make for one of the easiest ways to manipulate audiences' feelings.
In "The World is Big..." director Komandarev adapts Ilija Trojanow's slightly autobiographical novel about a family's escape from Bulgaria and consequent stays in refugee camps.
The plot centers around Aleksander 'Sashko' Georgiev (Ljubek) who suffers a terrible car accident in Germany where he loses his memory. His grandfather Bai Dan (Manojlovic) travels from Bulgaria to help his grandson regain his memory, along the way retelling a story of repression behind the iron curtain.
Komandarev divides his film in two parts: present Sashko as he makes a bicycle trip with grandpa back to Bulgaria and flashbacks of younger Sashko (Blagovest Mutafchiev) as he migrates with his parents (Mutafchiev and Papadopulu) to Italy where they live in a camp. The way in which the parallel storylines are edited suggests some sort of cumulative payoff is on the way, but the film is so preoccupied with pushing so many emotional buttons that it practically forgets to wrap the plotline set in the past.
It's as if the director is more interested in referencing as much social issues as he can in order to make his movie more self satisfyingly important. Therefore he mentions post WWII immigration, European repression, political asylum and even Fidel Castro. For those less versed in twentieth century history he makes an alternate solution by filtering all the events through Bai Dan's love of backgammon.
The character is particularly proud of his skills in the board game and his entire philosophical world view (including the film's title) comes from his need to turn everything into a backgammon inspired metaphor.
Even when it's time for Sashko to recover his memory, grandpa finds a way to make it a game where each breakthrough he has becomes the equivalent of backgammon points.
While the movie had so many chances to dig into profound issues about Bulgaria, including the prospect of repatriation as means of moving on or arguing if this is even necessary in a post European Union world it only uses history to move the corny plot forward.
Where it also had the opportunity to explore the main characters' psychological motivations (Why does grandpa choose a bicycle over a plane or car? Does amnesia represent a clean slate for Sashko?) it chooses instead to make them quirky for quirk's sake.
When the movie reaches it's completely anticlimactic finale which we'd been seeing coming from within the first ten minutes of the running time, we realize that the world indeed might be big, but this movie's ambitions aren't only quite limited but also shortsighted.

Read more of my thoughts on this movie over at The Film Experience.


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