“I expect you to change fundamentally.” These are the distressing words that epitomise a film that premiered at this year’s Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin.
Zhaleika, directed by Eliza Petkova, tells the story of Lora (Anna Manolova), a young girl who tries to do the one thing that the ageing members of her Bulgarian town forbid her from doing: rebel. From the very beginning of the film, two dichotomous sides are presented who will engage in the classic generational struggle for the full 92 minutes of this piece. The older generation are presented as being at one with the beautifully-filmed countryside in which they live. They wear clothes that blend into the stunning scenery subtly and show no desire to go against the status quo. Lora and Todor, her love interest, are members of the opposing force. They epitomise the youthful contingent of this film with their t-shirts, which have Coca Cola motifs on them, and dreams of escaping the village that they regard as a prison. The repression that is exerted over Lora is the main focus of the film as the viewer embraces this free-spirited girl and yearns for her to do whatever the hell it is that she wants.
The way that the picture is filmed leads to a bizarre feeling of intimacy. As Lora and Todor smoke in a secret den, suddenly feelings of guilt for encroaching onto their private world are created. The camera is not afraid to get really close to the two actors and the viewer cannot help but feel included in the intimacy of their moment as they kiss.
Simply on an aesthetic level, the film is a work of art. Petkova embraces the striking scenery that this eastern-European country offers her and uses it to great effect. The piece seems to use the beautiful scenery to compensate for the plot, which is fairly thin on the ground at times, and yet at no point does the viewer want the balance between plot and aesthetics to change. The shots that dwell on the sweeping hills or densely populated forests are the most memorable moments of this film and provide it with something awe-inspiring.
Zhaleika does not yet have a UK release date.
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