Dir.: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov
Cast: Margita Gosheva, Ivan Savov, Ivan Barnev, Stefan Denolyubov;
Bulgaria/Greece/Germany 2014, 105 min.
First time directors/writers Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov have created a film about newfound poverty in post-communist countries, very much on the lines of the impressive Kreditis Limiti (Credit Limits) by the Georgian director Salome Alexi. In both cases the central protagonist is a woman, fighting for the survival of her family, caught in the clutches of scrupulous moneylenders.
Set in small town Bulgaria, Nadezhda (Gosheva), a middle-aged teacher at a secondary school, finds out about the theft of a purse in her class. She gives the thief amble time to come forward, but in vain. We find out, that Nadeszhda (Nade) is a fanatical believer in righteousness, a belief that will be tested continually during the film. Her troubles start when she finds out that her husband Mladen (Barnev), an alcoholic, has bought a gearbox for a decrepit camper van he wants the sell for profit – with the money which was meant for the mortgage. The bank initiates a foreclosure, and Nadezhda has three days to save her family home. She goes to her wealthy, estranged father (Savov) who, having been widowed only three years ago, lives with a new partner, the skimpily dressed Galya, nearly 20 years younger than herself. Nade cannot conceal her dislike of her father’s partner, insulting the young woman on several occasions. So as a last resort, Nade goes to a moneylender to borrow the funds to save her home, but it emerges that he is a crooked letch and Nade but get her own back somehow.
Ideology-wise, THE LESSON is very much in the style of Lorna’s Silence by the Dardenne Brothers, demonstrating that poverty and homelessness is always just round the corner and always closer than we think – or hope. Nade is a very prim person, a dutiful teacher and good mother to her daughter Andrea. But her husband’s greed and incompetence lands her in a in a situation beyond help. At one point, she is racing against time to pay in the money from the lender to the bank. On the way to the bank, her car brakes down, she has to run, catch a bus, only to find out that the thief in her class has stolen her last penny and the piece is heads for a Kafkaesque denouement as we identify with her desperate predicament.
Gosheva is brilliant as the hassled woman, and DOP’s Krum Rodriguez’s images are very close to Pasqualino de Santis’ images in Bresson’s L’Argent. THE LESSON, which won the “New Director’s Award” in San Sebastian, is an outstanding portrait of a conscientious woman, who, without any fault of her own, suddenly has the rug pulled from beneath her feet. AS
REVIEWED DURING THE CAMBRIDGE FILM FESTIVAL 3 – 13 SEPTEMBER 2015