We spoke with Bulgarian filmmaker Stephan Komandarev, writer-director of Directions, co-production between Bulgaria, Germany and Macedonia, Un Certain Regard contender at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
What was the origin of this particular film?
SK: It’s a small and very personal film in some respects. I have two children. My daughter’s in the film. She’s the girl who’s going to school in the morning and then at the end. Several years ago I began to ask myself: what will happen with these two kids? What will they do? Where will they live? How will they live? After 27 years of so-called transition in Bulgaria, the results are not at all good.
There are many things that are not positive. In general, the cultural level of the society has fallen further and further down. I also teach students at the same film school where I studied, and I can tell you that year after year the level is going down. The level of poverty is growing larger and larger. Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union. The country is shrinking. In ‘89 we were nine million, now we are seven million, and that without a war! This is without precedent.
The prognoses are not good and for some reason I made this decision to stay in Bulgaria. My family is there, my friends are there. I made that decision at the beginning of the ‘90s when many of my friends emigrated. That’s why I care about what is happening to the society, to its people, to its culture. There is a very strong crisis of values in Bulgaria. The reality that you see on the media is totally fake. That’s why we chose the motif of the taxi driver, because they’re sitting there and they’re in the middle of this reality, of life.
Certainly the picture we have in our movie is very different than the picture you see in the Bulgarian media and get from the politicians. But I can say this is the real picture, this is the reality. It’s very important for me that people in Bulgaria see the film. It’s opening in January. We are going to make a big campaign, not so that we can make a lot of money, but so that the film can get a big audience.
It’s also an angry film, which it needs to be.
SK: Of course, if we want to try to change something, this is the way.
Was this primarily the product of feelings that had accumulated over time, or was it the reaction to something that had immediately occurred?
SK: It was an accumulation of experiences, observations, discussions with friends, a lot of reading of various authors, Bulgarian and otherwise. So it was a process, it took me years. That’s why I said this film is very different from my previous work; because at the moment I’m not so much interested in the past. After ‘89 we made many films about how it was during the previous decades. Now it’s been 27 years and the things happening now are much more interesting or relevant or disturbing; and very crucial for this part of the world.
In the opening scene, the mafia-banker is terrifying and obviously based on reality. Where does this social type come from?
SK: Bankers all around the world are similar. They want more and more. And if there are no controls on them, well, we saw what happened in 2008. In Bulgaria the frustration is similar. But of course we are a small country; we know each other, so things are very clear, transparent. All the stories in the film are based on real events.
There was a case several years ago of the killing of a banker; a similar situation, not in Sofia, but in the town of Burgas on the Black Sea. So we took this story … of course we changed this and that, but it’s real. It’s a form of blackmail, what the banker does. This situation doesn’t exist only in the banks; it’s everywhere--this connection between the financial elite, the politicians. It’s part of the octopus, which is not only Bulgarian.
Everyone in Bulgaria knows about this criminality, but the thing that is most difficult for me is that more and more for many people this is “normal.” But it’s not normal.
Do these types come from the former Stalinist bureaucracy?
SK: Yes and no. Most of this transition that was made in 1989 was made by the nomenklatura [key Stalinist officials]. They wanted to transform their political power into economic power. So the Communist nomenklatura was the engine of this change. In this process, they did a lot, they took a lot. Now many of these people, who were in the Communist Party before, are the biggest anti-Communists, the biggest fans of the European Union, of United States and anti-Russian. I know many examples personally of this. People who were the most furious Communists before, in one night they turned one hundred and eighty degrees. Now they’re acting the same way, but with different slogans and aims. It’s very cynical.
These people don’t have principles or values. They are again on the top and we see the results.
I am not nostalgic for that totalitarian period. But in this fake “transition” we’ve destroyed many positive things. We had a very good social system. The standard of living was much better; the educational system was amazing, health care, etc. We destroyed all of this and, as I told you, without a war. Although when you travel out of the big cities in Bulgaria you feel like it’s a country that’s been at war.