Eureka Entertainment // 2008 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // February 16th, 2012
"I have atoned without sinning. Tonight I draw the bottom line."
It's probably fair to say that few people look to the Bulgarian film industry when pondering which movie will serve as their evening's entertainment. However, for those looking for their first taste of what Bulgarian cinema has to offer, director Javor Gardev's Zift (Region 2) proves as good an entry point as you're likely to find.
Released from prison, having served time for a murder he didn't commit, Moth (Zahary Baharov) finds 1960s Sofia differs greatly from the world he left behind before the communist coup of 1944. Before Moth has time to take in all the changes to his homeland, he is beaten and kidnapped by the authorities, led by a former accomplice, who want to know the whereabouts of a diamond they believe Moth is in possession of.
Drawing on elements that immediately bring forth comparisons to classic noir, not to mention early offerings from Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) and Ritchie (Snatch), Zift knowingly incorporates well-worn genre tropes to instill a sense of familiarity with international audiences, whilst retaining just enough uniqueness to make for an intriguing proposition. The basic mystery that lies at the heart of Zift is fairly routine, and in truth is unlikely to actually remain a mystery beyond the opening 10 minutes. Despite this, Zift still entertains thanks solely to the increasingly odd situations and characters that Moth encounters.
A large part of Zift is made up of anecdotes that (usually) insignificant characters frequently recall. These range from the filthy (literally in the case of the opening tale involving an adulterous affair and three tones of feces) to the bizarre (as is true of a story which results in multiple beheadings). While these stories add a little texture to Zift, it's hard not to feel they are included, in part at least, to disguise the film's lack of narrative substance. Still, such moments add a little quirkiness to Zift and rarely have a negative effect on the films pace, which really picks up during the second half of the movie as it adopts a race against time structure.
Leading man Zahary Baharov delivers a confident performance, and is ably backed up by the support cast. Director Javor Gardev, though hardly reinventing the wheel, shows an assured hand, which sees him produce some striking imagery that stays in the mind long after the film has finished. It's also commendable how Gardev balances the film's more traditional noir/thriller aspects with the screenplays critique of the Communist rulers of the time.
For all its undeniable style, Zift fails to really take hold due to the nagging feeling that the film is little more than imitation. If this were an American (or even British/Korean/Japanese -- delete as applicable) movie, I'd see no reason to turn a blind eye to the distinct lack of originality, and so feel it would be condescending to show lenience toward Zift simply on the grounds of its nationality. Another gripe stems from the overuse of Moth's narration. It's fine at first, and even a little amusing, but there are only so many times one can stomach his penchant for describing smells ("He smelt like a freshly printed book.") before it proves grating.
The DVD sports a crisp-looking black-and-white transfer, with clear dialogue. Extras are sparse, with only a behind-the-scenes image gallery and trailer on offer.
Full of energy, and in possession of the odd spark of inspiration, Zift offers an interesting, if flawed, example of on neo-noir. It's an acquired taste, for sure, but overall definitely worth a look for fans of world cinema.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Bulgarian)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated