Blaga's Lessons


Reviewed by: Sergiu Inizian

Blaga's Lessons
"Beneath the intense lead performance and the minimalist but effective camera work, there is a rigid moral waiting to be unearthed." | Photo: Courtesy of KVIFF

Delving into the disturbing underbelly of an already corrupt society, Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev crafts a gripping thriller focused on Blaga (Eli Skorcheva), a retired teacher who falls prey to a telephone scam. As she attempts to economically and socially recover, the narrative's inclination for overt bleakness slowly reveals itself. While there's measure in how the cinematic eye crafts the protagonist's story and the dreary image of a post-communist town, the message feels forced. Beneath the intense lead performance and the minimalist but effective camera work, there is a rigid moral waiting to be unearthed. A message of hopelessness reiterated with bad timing, to the detriment of a well-thought-out character study.

Having just lost her husband, 70-year-old Blaga is determined to purchase an expensive gravesite and tombstone for him. The graveyard manager (Stefan Denolyubov) promises to keep the spot and fulfil the order at a premium price. The woman is content with the exaggerated cost, as she has some savings and does private lessons with an Abkhaz woman (Rozalia Abgarian), who requires a language test to become a Bulgarian citizen. But, Blaga’s world is overturned when she becomes the victim of an intricate scam. In one long take, we see the woman scramble to prepare the money and obey the violent men who bark orders on the phone. Watching the usually no-nonsense woman lose composure makes her mounting powerlessness vividly palpable. A feeling that only deepens once she understands her predicament at the police station.

Copy picture

As she becomes an ashamed victim, Blaga's loneliness intensifies. Encountering ineffective police officers and belittling journalists, she becomes the expression of a generation defined by abandonment. Walking around the squares of her small town, deteriorating buildings of austere architecture become her companions in a struggle to find the money required to honour her husband. Not even her son (Gerasim Georgiev), who works abroad, can ease her pain. Their bitter video calls usually end in quarrels and further establish to Blaga that she must take matters into her own hands.

Unable to secure a job to pay the increasingly frustrated graveyard manager, she decides to get involved in the dangerous activity which upended her life in the first place. In preparing to go down this dark path, she asks for help from the two people who are still genuinely concerned with her wellbeing. Forming a bond with another victim of the scam (Ivaylo Hristov), she asks him to fix her husband's car, without revealing the motive. Their interaction is compassionate but her obsessive drive to make the money for the grave plot prevents her from establishing a deeper relation with him. Her student, a deeply caring character, is the second stranger who connects with her. In discussing their background, the young woman explains that nothing compares to the experience of her war-torn home. Blaga assured her: "There is another kind of war here." This statement seems to come from the director himself, given the extent to which he intensifies the narrative’s sense of misery.

As the teacher desperately dives deeper into the illegal underworld, she is in a constant state of vigilance. Watching her street from behind the curtains, she sees children playing football and older couples strolling by. These small moments compellingly speak about her loneliness while also marking the threshold she has crossed - she has been pushed into a crude world of deranged morals, a transition which visibly takes a toll on her. Underneath the poised exterior, Skorcheva conveys a distressing sense of fear and confusion. Her intense eyes betray the darkness which surrounds her after questionably embracing a dangerous last resort. While the lead performance is commendable, the director deepens the story into stark bleakness - ultimately delivering a bare-faced commentary on a society with no visible moral compass.

Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2024
Share this with others on...
Blaga's Lessons packshot
A woman's moral compass starts to slip after she is conned out of her savings by a phone scammer.

Director: Stephan Komandarev

Writer: Simeon Ventsislavov, Stephan Komandarev

Starring: Eli Skorcheva, Gerasim Georgiev, Rozalia Abgarian, Ivan Barnev, Stefan Denolyubov, Ivaylo Hristov

Year: 2023

Runtime: 114 minutes

Country: Bulgaria, Germany

Search database: