Based on a true story, Glory (Slava) by Peter Valchanov and Kristina Grozeva is an all-too-believable satirical parable about an honest man, corruption and spin.
I Walk the Lineby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
One day, reclusive, poorly paid, railway lineman Tsanko (Stefan Denolyubov) finds a huge amount of cash in high-value notes lying on the railway line. Being honest, he tells the authorities, to the derision of his colleagues, who think he’s a fool not to pocket it. The Transport Minister’s hard-nosed PR Julia (Kristina Grozeva) sees this positive news as a heaven-sent opportunity to counter investigative journalist Kolev’s (Kitodar Todorov) television allegations of institutional corruption over the theft and sale of the state railways’ fuel.
Shot verité-style like a Bulgarian The Thick of It, it’s clear this clash of cultures and class (rural/urban lifestyles, traditional/contemporary values) can never end well. When he arrives at the Ministry to be lauded for his ‘heroism’, Tsanko is a big media disappointment – he has a disabling stammer, so he’s no good as an interviewee, and he looks wild, woolly and unkempt. He’s quickly stripped of his dignity, his unsuitable trousers and his family-heirloom Russian-made Slava watch that’s crucial to the timekeeping he needs for his work. In its place he’s ceremonially presented with an inferior cheap digital version. In contrast to his homespun virtues, Julia is the embodiment of a sharp, unscrupulous, modern workaholic executive, commanding her minions all around her, including her long-suffering husband. Absurdly, she’s in the middle of the latest hi-tech fertility treatment, though she treats it with disdain, taking numerous mobile phone calls in the middle of medical procedures, forgetting her injections until she has to have one in her office wrapped in an EU flag for concealment.
And when Tsanko innocently tries to inform the Minister about the corruption he’s witnessed, it all starts to go wrong for him and Julia’s PR machine goes into overdrive. Comedy and tragedy are inextricably mixed, culminating in a sudden, desperate act that’s ironically imagined with the background of a jaunty jazz melody.
Denolyubov and Grozeva also featured in The Lesson, another bleak morality story, and the first film in a trilogy Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, of which Glory is the second, and they deliver beautifully judged performances. Glory mercilessly shows an unequal society running on casual cruelty, injustice, obstructive bureaucracy and hypocrisy. A world that functions on instantaneous communication thereby excludes people who cannot speak up for themselves. Subtly beneath it all runs the importance of EU membership to the development to modern Bulgaria, as instanced in the potential funding to be awarded to its railway system – in the background to the unfolding farce in the Ministry, there’s a meeting where a ridiculously droning speech is being made by what is clearly a British EU representative.
Glory is a sophisticated, well-made, all-too-real satire – a chilling contemporary snapshot – that’s very well worth seeking out.
Glory won Best International Feature Film at the Edinburgh Film Festival is released on 5 January 2018 in the UK.