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‘Blaga’s Lessons’ Director Stephan Komandarev on Diagnosing the Ills of Contemporary Bulgaria | #ukscams | #datingscams | #european | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | #match.com | #dating

Bulgarian multi-hyphenate Stephan Komandarev completes his trilogy on social problems and moral ills in contemporary Bulgaria with “Blaga’s Lessons,” world premiering in Karlovy Vary Film Festival’s Crystal Globe competition. Heretic is the sales agent.

After “Directions” (2017), which centers on tough times for some Sofia taxi drivers over a long and eventful night, and “Rounds” (2019), about police officers patrolling the capital, Komandarev and his co-writer Simeon Ventsislavov use an older woman duped by a telephone scam to look at issues afflicting their parents’ generation. Komandarev says: “The Bulgarian pensioners turned out to be the real victims of the so-called ‘transition’ (the time from 1989 to today.) These people, who have worked and created persistently all their lives, have lost basic safety and security, normal food, adequate medical care, heating, etc.”

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The protagonist Blaga (Eli Skorcheva) is a retired Bulgarian language and literature teacher. A recent widow, she’s worried about how she will pay for her husband’s grave and headstone. Her grown son lives abroad and struggles to make a living himself. She supplements her meager pension by giving private language lessons. At first it looks as if she can stretch her finances, but then she is swindled out of almost all her money.

Helmer Komandarev notes that he and many of his friends have loved ones who have fallen prey to such scams. He says: “It happens quite often. We did serious research, met many victims, talked to police officers who work on such cases, even managed to see a real phone scammer. We hope our film will seriously support prevention.”

While the previous films in the helmer’s trilogy took place in Sofia, “Blaga’s Lessons” is set in Shumen, an old town with its own cultural traditions and a unique city scape ideal for cinema, including the impressive monument known as “1300 Years of Bulgaria.” Komandarev says: “We also decided to go out of Sofia, because in the countryside, the situation with pensioners is even more difficult compared to Sofia. There are more lonely elderly people there; the countryside is depopulating much faster than the capital.” Moreover, the local orchestra is the oldest symphony in Bulgaria and its conductor, Kalina Vasileva, composed the film’s music.

Expressive lead Skorcheva turns in a performance that is both vulnerable and steely. Komandarev notes: “Eli was a star in the 80s in Bulgaria. All of us teenagers back then were in love with her. There were cult films with her participation. After 1989, she deliberately stopped acting in cinema and television, frustrated by the excessive commercialization in this area.” He met her by chance during the pandemic and she agreed to read the script and liked it very much. He continues: “Rarely in my career as a director have I had the good fortune to work with an actress of such class, with incredible sensitivity and eye for detailed acting.”

Stephan Komandarev

The title “Blaga’s Lessons” has multiple meanings. In one sense, it is about the precision of her use of the Bulgarian language, a practice so ingrained that she continues to automatically correct sloppy usage. Komandarev says: “One of the signs of a crisis in a society is spiritual decline, a decline in education, also in the quality of spoken and written speech.” The most important teachers in his childhood were those in Bulgarian language and literature. “They made me read books that developed my imagination and gave me a general culture. They taught me to express myself meaningfully and to develop my ideas. They had a high social prestige in the times of my childhood. Today, this is not the case.”

If one considers Komandarev’s works, as well as the films of Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov (whose “The Father” won Karlovy Vary’s Crystal Globe in 2019), and Ralitza Petrova (“Godless”), it looks as if there is a school of Bulgarian social critiques. Komandarev agrees. He says: “There are also other colleagues who make good films in this direction. In times of moral, spiritual, social and economic crisis, cinema, in my opinion, should try to ‘cure’ a sick society. We cannot pretend not to see what is happening around us, it would be cynical. Unfortunately, in Bulgaria there is a campaign against this type of cinema. It is denigrated as ‘festival,’ ‘art’ or ‘social’ cinema. There are attempts to impose a model for more market-oriented and entertainment films. That denial to look at the real problems of people is also a sign of the decline of a society.”

As a former medical doctor, Komandarev is particularly attuned to making diagnoses. He says: “My life experience as a doctor is a great help to me when I make my films. I try to use them to sort of diagnose our times and our society. Because, as we were taught in the Medical University, a correct diagnosis is the most important first step in good treatment.”

Komandarev also continues to direct and produce documentaries. They may help in writing his feature film scripts, or ideas developed in a feature film may become the basis for a future documentary. He says: “I love making documentaries, getting into real issues and events that interest me, meeting interesting people, gaining their trust. Getting out of my comfort zone. To learn new things and stories. To create documentaries that are both emotional, tell interesting stories and inform about injustices.”

Komandarev is next readying to shoot a fifth project written with Ventsislavov. It’s a German co-production called “Made in EU,” and was one of 15 projects selected for the the 2022 L’Atelier at Cannes.

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