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Directions [2017]: ‘TIFF’ Review

Ever had a really bad day? A day where even the morning coffee tastes like a bad case of psychoactive caffeine intake? Stephan Komandarev’s latest film “Directions” is based on a series of cab rides on one such ‘really bad day’ in present-day Sofia. Focusing on the dreaded and tortured lives of Bulgarian residents, Komandarev twists the general narrative into a mosaic of vignettes that are both a certain cry for help and an investigation into human empathy that is bursting out for a listener.

One could say that this is an angry film. While it does touch on the subjects that Komandarev has previously explored in his older films, the single-person perspective that he presents in “Directions” makes it a more engrossing and deeply personal account. With steady single-takes, the film immerses us into the front seat of a varied number of Taxi rides as we get to know both the drivers & the passengers, their joys and pains and mostly the vigour or sadness that keeps them going when they are unable to leave a place.




The film opens at daytime with cab driver Misho (Vasil Vasilev-Zueka) and his daughter. There’s a certain huge argument about the repossession of his workshop as he is unable to pay off the people who are constantly trying to take advantage of the more vulnerable class of Bulgarian people. To add to his misery, he is forced to pick up a young teenage escort on his way to a meeting with a banker. Already late on a couple of things and his messed up life, Misho takes a certain way out that gives this tragic dark-ride a kick-start.

The film has a very disorientated but immensely appealing tone. Like the group of people that it follows, the tone seems to come from a different livestock altogether. There’s this old lonely father who is greaving for his recently deceased son, the middle-aged woman driver who wishes that fewer doctors left town as it has already turned into an apocalyptic war zone where violence is the only way left to resolve a conflict, the gym-teacher cum actor who in a way also serves as a critic of the Bulgarian film industry, the priest whose faith still remains intact even though he pushes Godly proceeding as sales product.

The passengers are equally angry or sad at the current scenario in Sofia. The cheating husband, the drunken youth, the suicidal teacher, the lawyer all serve as counterpoints for Komandarev’s exploration of the Bulgarian society. It’s too dark & brooding to completely engulf this narrative that only gets darker with every passing minute. I mean, one only imagines why Taxi-rides in Sofia isn’t about film-stars and their films, or the cricket match that’s playing on the telly. But since the aim is clearly exploring the socio-political and interpersonal conflict that the residents face there’s not much to be expected from an otherwise terrific drama.

It’s amazing how Komanderv pieces the film together in a way that feels coherent in spite of being about different people. His stories move from one to the other with a distant look to the other cab, traveling in a flow that is hard to describe. The question hence arises: Will we care about these people without getting much into their character? Does the film move you to an extent of feeling the darkness that abounds the life of these people? Strangely it does and doesn’t. Which isn’t entirely a bad thing from the shotgun seat that I got for this ride. 




Shot almost entirely inside Taxis on the street of Sofia where the ongoing radio station debate about violence in the first act serves as a soundtrack, Stephan Komandarev’s “Directions” is basically Paul Haggis’s “Crash” with a narrative reminiscent to Damián Szifron’s “Wild Tales.” Is it better than both the films? Well, certainly better than the Oscar winner for sure!

★½

‘DIRECTIONS’ WAS SCREENED AT THE 2017 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.
CLICK HERE FOR OUR COMPLETE TIFF COVERAGE.

Director: Stephan Komandarev.
Cast: Vasil Vasilev-Zueka, Ivan Barnev, Assen Blatechki, Irini Zhambonas, Vasil Banov, Dobrin Dosev, Troyan Gogov, Guerassim “Gero”, Guerguiev, Dimitar Banenkin, Stephan Denolyubov.
Cinematography: Vesselin Hristov.
Editing: Nina Altaparmakova.
Producers: Stephan Komandarev, Katya Trichkova, Vera Weit, Vladimir Anastasov, Angela Nestorovska, Stelios Ziannis.
Production Companies: Argo Film, Aktis Film Production, Sektor Film.
Production Designer: Mariya Koycheva.
Screenplay: Simeon Ventsislavov, Stephan Komandarev.
Sound: Ivan Andreev, Markus Krohn.
International Sales: ARRI Worldsales

 

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