DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema
Director - Andrey Paounov - 2023

"Dirty gem"
Two men and a bird are trapped within the confines of a remote rural house, in this highly elliptical, meditative Bulgarian film dotted with folklore references - exquisite winter treat is in cinemas on Friday, January 27th

There is barely a storyline in this elegant Bulgarian drama. Some might be tempted to describe it as a non-narrative film. What is certain is that the plot is subordinate to the haunting images and the sounds. Two middle-aged men (Samuel Finzi and Iossif Surchadzhiev) spend their days inside a precarious countryside house. Their interaction is mostly laconic, except when one of them does crosswords: “what’s the largest fresh water lake in the world”, “Spanish dish with the letter ‘l’ “, and so on. Their scarce communication is hardly coherent. A very perky crow inside a cage is the most talkative movie character. The landscape is almost entirely covered in snow. Drinking rakia (fruit brandy from the Balkans) is their only comfort, a habit strangely shared by their feathered friend.

A third character called Petar Motorov has gone into town with his rifle and sleigh. He is nowhere to be seen, in a film virtually entirely set within the shabby house and its snowy surroundings. Two stranded strangers demand help fixing their broken plough, while a menacing priest asks for the whereabouts of the elusive Petar. Petar’s horse eventually returns, but instead of bringing his owner back home, he carries a stuffed wolf flanked by two sticks, one on each side. The taxidermic character inexplicably multiplies itself, in a movie where animals – living and dead – are as important as the human beings in it. Their precise significance is as mooted as pretty much anything in this 110-minute experience. Bulgarians tenetz (ghosts) and kukeri (elaborately dressed men, with horned masks intended to scare evil spirits away) provide a touch of mysticism. Visually impressive. More sensory than spiritual.

The sharp black-and-white cinematography creates a sense of isolation. Almost everything is covered in snow, yet such whiteness/vastness offers our hapless characters little comfort and respite. Instead it imprisons humans and animals alike. It could even kill them. This wintry atmosphere is achieved mostly through CGI, as it failed to snow while the crew were filming. An impressive outcome: such manipulation is barely visible even to the most attentive eye. A lot of attention is also devoted to the elaborate music score, which blends seamlessly with the sounds of man and nature: the conversations, the wind blowing fiercely, the chatty bird, and so on.

Andrey Paounov seems to take inspiration (or perhaps even pay tribute) to at least two classics. An axe-wielding character breaks through a door while creepy children appear at the end of the corridor, immediately evoking The Shining (Stanley Kubrick. 1980). A sudden ascension into a dreamy, colourful zone might bring Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) to mind. Yet January is a beast of its own. A movie to be enjoyed in the darkness of the titular month.

January is out in selected cinemas across the UK on Friday, January 27th. It premiered in 2021 at the Rebel with a Cause section of the Tallinn Black Nights International Film Festival.

"Dirty gem"

By Victor Fraga - 26-01-2023

By Victor Fraga - 26-01-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
Another year has gone by, and DMovies is [Read More...]
A small family of four lives in a [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]

Read More

Reclaiming Vincente Minnelli’s overlooked gem


Isy Santini - 25-03-2023

Not quite what it seems: Isy Santini takes a dirty look at Vincente Minnelli's Brigadoon and argues that the film - which most thought to be a musical - was in reality a horror piece! [Read More...]

In the Middle

Greg Cruttwell

John McDonald - 25-03-2023

Quirky football referee documentary might just give you a new outlook the next time you step out onto the pitch - in cinemas Friday, March 31st [Read More...]


David Wagner

John McDonald - 25-03-2023

Award-winning Austrian drama investigates the pain of being deeply closeted, while also highlighting the joy of being openly gay in the military - powerful, uplifting, and incredibly heart-warming film shows at WatchAUT: Austrian Film Festival [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *