We were lucky to have acclaimed director, Georgi Djulgerov at the screening of Buffer Zone at the 3rd Festival of Bulgarian Culture on December 4th. ‘This is an important film for me as it’ll be my last,’ he announced. ‘Through this film, I’d like to honour the great cinema of the 50’s and 60’s, because cinema has gone’.
This emotional speech came as prelude to what was essentially the swan song of a bygone era of cinema’s greatest auteurs – Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut, Tarkovsky, Wenders. It defined what the following 126 minutes would celebrate, and we were all cordially invited on a journey at once thought-provoking and meditative.
The premise of the film is deceptively simple; an ageing filmmaker, Todor Cherkezov (Rusi Chanev), awakes in hospital and realizes his wife Irina has been killed in a car crash, which has left him partially-sighted. The whole film then follows the emotional and mental processing of these events and the character’s burgeoning sense of mortality as he’s caught in a buffer zone of dream-like life appraisals.
The camera is blurred at the edges for the entire film, mimicking Cherkezov’s predicament, so the audience is at once part of the kaleidoscopic stories that unfold. We see scenes re-imagined from well-known moments in cinematic history, such as the opening, where the young Cherkezov (Tigran Torosyan) emerges from the hospital bed back to his past beside the younger Irina (Hristina Ivanova). We share glimpses of a relationship through terse dialogue and languishing visuals – all very beautifully shot and highly reminiscent of Kieslowski’s Double Life of Veronique.
Djulgerov’s cinematography has an almost sculptural quality when it comes to lighting, and his theatrical background is much in evidence – not least in a passing homage to Tarkovsky, where we see the younger Cherkezov visiting his mother (Meglena Kralambova), the white minimalist scene spotlighting a conversation, which wanders from past to present. As a viewer it’s difficult to predict the visual navigation in this film – where exactly are we going? Is Cherkezov a Marcello Mastroianni figure leading us on an existential roundabout? The narrative takes the audience down a rabbit-hole of surreal settings which include a Taliban compound, a car journey to a netherworld of snow, a visit to a female inmate in prison – only to encounter his past through people he’s lost (Fellini-style characters reminiscent of Amarcord) and reflections on new ones he finds along the way, including ciphers from films like Wim Wenders’ Until The End of The World.
If there’s any criticism to be made, it’s that though memorable, one can never really engage with this film emotionally. The homage device is ultimately dispassionate, and the film presented as a construct from the very beginning. Much of the meaning is intellectual, with the referential nature of the scenes a little distracting at times, as the viewer attempts to locate which film each is based on. Yet it seems possible too this is exactly what Djulgerov wants from you: as with Cherkezov he wants you to wake up, to open your eyes, to think: to ponder your life, your fears and your dreams by connecting with them.
If Buffer Zone sounds dangerously close to highbrow, it is, but there are many moments that stand out on their own. I personally liked the interplay between the characters in the grim vignettes: people are seen fighting, getting drunk, falling out and falling down. The cast is excellent: every single actor pins their role down with gusto and the psychological nuances picked up in the script were expertly played. A great example is the daydream scene where a young wannabe female poet in the guise of a prison-worker visits Cherkezov to secure a visit to a female prisoner. Cherkezov’s wife, Irina (Stefka Ianorova) is wonderful in the psychological stand off that follows: themes of territorialism, sexual insecurity and identity are all played out then abruptly punctuated by one shot of a used condom falling from the sky on to the balcony outside.
Such visually witty moments amidst intense exchanges are what make Buffer Zone so intriguing. It’s a great film for film-buffs and laymen alike: the imagery is stunning, particularly the mesmerizing landscape shots. Full of visual splendour, it’s well worth a peep – if you don’t mind the gentle lecturing and fancy an evening of cinematic treats.
This screening of Georgi Djulgerov’s Buffer Zone was part of the 3rd London Festival of Bulgarian Culture, organized by the Bulgarian Cultural Institute London