MPI // 2008 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // July 12th, 2010
"The bigger the shit, the lesser the damage. The moral damage, that is, not the material one."
Zift opens with a story about a septic truck driver who makes a special delivery of zift (Bulgarian for "shit," among other things) after finding that his wife is having an affair. There are a lot of stories like that in Zift, such as the one about the burglar who lost an eye to a cuckoo clock during a heist and the accidental beheadings at the beauty salon.
There's also a plot in this movie about '60s Bulgaria, as Moth (Zahary Baharov, Universal Soldier: Regeneration), a burglar who took a murder rap, is released from prison after creating a propaganda campaign in prison. He must deal with Slug (Vladimir Penev), a former partner who's now in official power, and his beloved Ada (Tanya Ilieva), now a lounge singer. Slug's looking for the diamond they were trying to heist, and Moth must get it to him fast to get the antidote to a poison.
Zift is stylish, shot in black-and-white to evoke B-movies past, and Zift is weird. When Moth makes love to Ada, for example, they do it on the still-vivid chalk outline of the man whose death Moth went to prison for. Sometimes the weirdness can be amusing, as when the warden punches Moth one last time on his way out of prison. Others, it can be just weird. Take those beheadings, for example. Performances are broad, but that's part of the idea.
The point of Zift isn't to tell a mystery story, although there are a couple of twists at the end. It's more to create an indictment of Bulgaria's Communist past with gallows humor and surreal metaphor. That point is made clearest when Moth looks up in awe at the red star on an official building and crawls through the zift on the street below.
It may be in black-and-white, but the stylized look is handled with modern panache. Zift looks and sounds great. The subtitles draw particular attention to the prison propaganda posters, with slogans like "No work, no food" and "Sound mind in a sound body."
There's also a trailer that makes Zift sound a lot like a straightforward thriller, but sprinkles in hints of weirdness.
Zift isn't for everyone. It's got a lot of profanity, violence, and nudity, including prison scenes and a frenetic race through a women's public bath; it's not rated, but I'd guess it's an R. It's also weird -- with a political and philosophical underpinning behind the strangeness.
For Western audiences, it's hard to tell where the B-movie stylings end and the surreal indictment of Communism begins. I've seen a few movies from the former Soviet Bloc before, but this one still left me scratching my head at times. I eventually got the point, but I suspect only part of it. Those of you who have an interest in the Cold War era and don't mind a little strangeness will find it worth a look. Anyone just looking for a thriller should look elsewhere.
Not guilty, but watch at your own risk.
Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Bulgarian)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated