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GOLDEN ROSE 2021

Review: Humble

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- Documentarian Svetoslav Draganov injects personal experiences into his debut fiction feature, creating an existential drama on artistic struggles and ethical hesitations

Review: Humble
Hristo Petkov in Humble

Making documentaries often means zooming in on real people’s lives and exposing them. Perhaps trying to place himself in his protagonists’ shoes and see what things look like from that side of the camera too, Svetoslav Draganov dares to reveal insights from his own life on the screen in his first fiction feature, Humble, which has premiered at Bulgaria’s Golden Rose Film Festival in Varna. It paints an intimate portrait of a documentary director, tormented by moral dilemmas and financial troubles, while also enduring soured family relationships.

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Draganov’s alter ego, Vassil (acclaimed theatre actor Hristo Petkov, also appearing in mainstream movies such as Heights/The Liberators [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and In the Heart of the Machine), is a fortysomething filmmaker who is trying to put together a documentary involving a tough mother-son relationship, which he has been researching for a very long time. His ultimate goal, it seems, is to examine the subject of forgiveness, and therefore he is attempting to reconcile the son – Avtonom (Atanas Bachorski), a monk embarrassed by his homosexuality, who is currently treating his alcohol addiction through psychiatry – with his terminally ill mother. And he wants to document their crucial encounter with a camera.

The ethical side of his approach is a leitmotif that pervades the entire film and, at the same time, resonates with Vassil’s private life, which is in tatters thanks to his shilly-shally behaviour. After an extramarital affair and the hidden accumulation of debts, his wife (Miroslava Gogovska) acts distrustfully, while communication with his teenage daughter (Draganov’s real-life daughter, Yana Draganova) is obviously dysfunctional. An atmosphere of constant doubt enriches Humble’s somewhat melancholic emotional palette, while humility itself arrives only with the cathartic denouement.

For those who have seen Draganov’s documentary Life Almost Wonderful (a continuation of his first documentary, Life Is Wonderful, Isn't It?), on the complex interrelation between a promiscuous mother and her numerous sons, the connection between the fictional character Avtonom in Humble and the real-life monk Bobby from the documentary is unquestionable. The director is apparently reflecting on the creative process behind what is probably his most successful film so far, this time shifting his gaze away from the lives of others in an attempt to comprehend his own. Shrouded in personal insecurities and haunted by repeated wrong decisions, his Vassil prompts both sympathy and compassion for his sincerity, but also a certain disrespect for acting like a coward. These feelings instilled in us are good proof that an intricate, controversial and profound character has been built up.

Veselin Hristov’s (Rounds [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Stephan Komandarev
film profile
]
, Sister [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Svetla Tsotsorkova
film profile
]
, Life Almost Wonderful) camera seeks out authenticity without applying the typical cinéma vérité rawness, and conveys the characters’ shaky states of mind together with the overall melancholic, autumnal mood in the urban spaces and in nature through penetrating close-ups and silent, observational frames. Having said that, the cosy, retro interiors of the old Sofia apartments manage to offset the overall sense of loneliness.

Humble was produced by Bulgaria’s Cineaste Maudit Production, and co-produced by Bulgaria's Contrast Films and Romania’s Parada Film and Digital Cube.

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