Saturday, March 10, 2012

Avé [2011]

Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing -

Avé (directed and cowritten by Konstantin Bojanov along with Arnold Barkus) is a sad if compelling young adult "road movie" from Bulgaria that I recently saw at the 15th Annual European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Sickel Film Center in Chicago, IL.

The film is about two young hitch-hikers, a late-teen early 20-something young woman named Avé (played by Angela Nedialkova) and young university student, male, named Kamen (played by Ovanes Torosian).

Avé appears to have been from a fairly rich family.  Her father had been a diplomat and she and her brother had spent part of their childhood in India while her father had been stationed at the Bulgarian embassy in Dehli.  As a result, Avé knows some English.  Kamen appears to have lived all his life in Bulgaria though he did have some education as well being an art student in Bulgaria's capital city of Sofia.

They both find themselves hitchhiking for their own tragic reasons.  Avé is searching for her drug addicted brother, figuring that she'd be more likely to find him by chatting up people she meets at road-side cafes, diners, truck-stops and so forth.  It's clear that she's done this before.  Kamen, on the other hand, is trying to get to the village of his best friend in time for his best friend's funeral.  What happened to his best friend?  He committed suicide.  Why?  Because he had caught Kamen sleeping with his best friend's girlfriend.  So he's going back to his best friend's village in part to atone and in part to say, if he finds the courage, that he's sorry.

Bulgaria is a rather poor country.  As filmed in this movie, I could not help but find it to look something like the "New Jersey of Europe," not particularly picturesque.  A good part of the two's journey involved both crossing and traveling along the rather industrialized Danube River.  It becomes also clear in the film that Bulgaria is dominated by two major cities at opposite ends of the country -- Sofia its capital at the far western interior side of the country and Varna its principal port on the Black Sea.  (New Jersey is also dominated by two major metropolitan areas at opposite ends of the state -- New York City just to the north and east of the state and Philadelphia, PA just to south and west of the state).  Then just like New Jersey, with its Jersey Shore, Bulgaria has been famous over the years and in different times for its beaches on the Black Sea.  Indeed, during the Cold War when citizens of the various countries of the Soviet-aligned Warsaw Pact/Eastern Bloc could not travel outside of the Warsaw Pact, Bulgaria's Black Sea Coast was one of the Eastern Bloc's most popular tourist destinations.  Pretty much all of my Czech relatives spent one or two summer vacations on the Black Sea, in both Romania and Bulgaria.

Most of the film appears to be filmed in the countryside and small towns between Sofia and Varna.  It's winter or fall.  So it's rather cold, dank and grey.  When the two arrive at the village of Kamen's best friend it is simply raining and it doesn't really stop until they leave.  And of course the mother, religious (Bulgarian Orthodox), is devastated and dressed from head to toe in black.  The rest of the relatives only join her in her weeping, and worry about their Viki's (Viktor's) soul.  "It's a great sin to kill oneself," they keep muttering in their tears, trying to comprehend why.  Eventually Kamen, perhaps from the city and remember he came in part in hopes of somehow apologizing, perhaps because he can't stand listening to them anymore or perhaps trying to help them understand asks: "But what's so heroic about living if all life's about just going from 'point a' to 'point b'?

Remember this is a film about two hitchhikers more or less randomly traveling a grey desolate countryside seeking in part to atone for losing one soul, and searching for another.

No, Avé, this is not exactly a cheerful movie (though the character Avé does give it charm because as she talks up people for information about the possible whereabouts of her brother, she also enjoys embellishing her story in ways that makes her randomly going "from point a to point b" interesting).  But above all, the movie comes across as very sincere.   Bulgaria in the winter must be very grey.

Still all the major people associated with this film -- the writer, director, cinematographer and both main actors -- deserve recognition and praise for this film.  They told a very sad story, but told it very, very well, in a manner that all viewers could understand.

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