The Good Postman

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Good Postman - in a small Bulgarian village troubled by the ongoing refugee crisis, a local postman runs for mayor — and learns that even minor deeds can outweigh good intentions.
"Hristov stands back and silently observes as the election campaign plays out, showing rather than telling, how much economic circumstances can drive both word and deed."

Three documentaries at Sundance this year - Last Men In Aleppo, Cries From Syria and City Of Ghosts - took a look at the bleak situation for the civilians in Syria, who currently find themselves under fire from multiple forces. Bulgarian filmmaker Tonislav Hristov approaches the subject from the opposite end, to consider some of the possibilities for refugees trying to flee to Europe and those who either seek to welcome or repel them.

He looks at the problem through the prism of Bulgarian village Great Dervent - a name that may once have been accurate but now lies heavy with irony. Like many villages in rural areas of Europe it is 'dying', with an increasingly ageing population as the young people migrate away in search of better opportunities. Yet, while the place may only have 48 voters, the viewpoints they hold offer a microcosm of the arguments being held in much grander environments right across the continent.

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The postman of the title is Ivan, a hardworker who, by dint of his job, speaks to everyone in town on a regular basis. He's a thoughtful soul, often captured by Hristov - whose whole documentary is marked by patient pacing - contemplating what has been said to him or thinking about what to do next. He has an idea, based on the fact that the village is right on the Turkish border - so close, in fact, that one villager observes that they needed "a passport to visit the graveyard". Their border position means Syrian refugees frequently pass through the village in transit to what they hope will be a better life. Ivan - who is frequently seen phoning Frontex, the European Border Police to report such activity - believes that these young families could reinvigorate Great Dervent, if only he can win the mayoral election and make it happen.

It's a radical idea but one that could be seen to mirror, in miniature, the policy of Germany, for example, which, with its ageing population, is benefiting from migrants. Some of the villagers are all for it but others - as is also common in the wider European population - fear what they regard as other. "What if they frighten her?" one villager asks, referring to an elderly resident. This less welcoming view is also espoused by one of Ivan's mayoral rivals, who sees a return to Communism as the only way forward. Then there's the elusive, incongruously glamorous current mayor Vesa, who seems happiest when holding no opinion at all.

Hristov stands back and silently observes as the election campaign plays out, showing rather than telling, how much economic circumstances can drive both word and deed. The film is also a testimony to the humanism stoicism of the local populace in the face of the undeniable melancholy of their environment, which is focused on the dead - "May God forgive all who have passed away" - than the living. Unlike so many documentaries which feel the need to underline every move with a bombastic score, Peter Dunakov draws on what appear to be local music traditions, to create an evocative backdrop that perfectly fits Hristsov's measured approach. By boiling the issues down to this one, tiny community, the director opens our eyes to the bigger picture.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2017
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In a small Bulgarian village troubled by the ongoing refugee crisis, a local postman runs for mayor — and learns that even minor deeds can outweigh good intentions.

Director: Tonislav Hristov

Writer: Tonislav Hristov, Lubomir Tsvetkov

Year: 2016

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Finland, Bulgaria


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