June 19, 2020
What do we really know about all the economic and social mutations that eastern Europe is experiencing with its gradual integration into European modernity? Very little, outside the somewhat superficial analysis that some of their regimes turn to conservative national parties. The Bulgarian-Greek film Glory (released in 2018) gives us an idea of what is happening beneath the surface when a Bulgarian railway trackman loses his cherished and family watch (Glory) in exchange for a super contemporary high tech watch… that does not work.
GLORY: a Bulgarian-Greek drama-comedy from directors-producers-screenwriters Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, produced in 2016, released in Germany in 2018. The film received several prizes at lesser-known European film festivals and was in the main competition at the Lucarno International film festival.
A recluse Bulgarian railway trackman, Tsanko Petrov, finds a huge sum of money during his inspection rounds and decides to turn the totality of the sum to the authorities, in his case the Ministry of Transport of Bulgaria. His decision fuels a ministry campaign to make public the honesty of this worker, a good opportunity to deflect from the scandals that are surrounding the Ministry. It is not altogether clear if the scandals involve small thefts, such as railroad employees depleting some petrol for their own benefit, or larger thefts, such as privatizing whole chunks of the railroads at bargain prices, Russian style.
The person in charge of the publicity scheme is Julia Staykova, a public relations specialist, working at high speed, constantly tied to her irrepressible cell phone, the real leader of her workday. In her private life, she is undergoing medical aid to have a child before it would be late for her to do so.
To celebrate the working class hero in style, he is given a high-tech watch during a public ceremony, and, in the process, his usual watch, Glory, is taken away from him.
Turns out the high-tech watch does not work. Tsanko then tries to reappropriate his former watch, a family souvenir in addition to its more mundane advantage of giving the proper time of day,
His search for his former watch is fruitless, and public relations specialist Julia Staykova tries to satisfy Tsanko with a fake one. Tsanko then calls a press conference to make public the corruption at the Ministry.
Following these events, Julia learns that a trackman has committed suicide, and she mistakenly believes it must be Tsanko. Overcome with guilt, and learning that he is alive, she finally finds Tsanko's watch and decides to visit him to return it to him. She finds a beaten-up Tsanko, who in the meantime was roughed up by fellow rail employees who believed that, because of him, some of their illegal schemes are now under greater scrutiny.
The film ends in an awkward scene when Tsanko wields a heavy instrument at the public relations specialist, while the husband, and soon-to-be father, waits in the car for her return.
THE MOVIE SHRINK'S VIEW
Of course, the first reaction is to say that the film is about corruption in newly modernized Eastern Europe. And it is true the film directs us to that theme. There is a lot of corruption to work on, both the smaller scale corruption of the ancien regime and the more recent, large-scale corruption of the new integration into Europe and its privatization schemes.
There is also the possibility that the film is guided, so to speak, by cinematic traditions that go beyond this specific story, and the film, in the words of the Guardian's Leslie Felperin, "connects with similarly pessimistic naturalism of Romanian cinema while displaying an even darker, lugubrious Slavic edge".
While these last remarks add something to our understanding of the film, and particularly its tone, the real meaning of the film, according to The Movie Shrink, lies elsewhere.
It has to do with time.
Time is of the essence in this story.
The title of the film is the name of a watch, Glory, a watch that correctly tells time. In the process of changing watches, there is the risk of having no watch at all, of losing reference to time.
Yet, it is not only Tsanko that has an issue with time. The public relations expert, Julia Staykova has her own issues with time. She is constantly under the authority of her cell phone. Just as Tsanko has a stuttering challenge, she has a problem keeping up with the pace of events.
She still has another issue with time, in the sense that she is attempting to become pregnant, with time running out. A European film critic wrote that this sub-plot ( of Julia's attempt to become pregnant) is an unnecessary distraction to the film's main story. Not so, says The Movie Shrink. This sub-plot is, in fact, quite illuminating. It confirms that the real theme of this film is time.
THE LARGER PICTURE
All through Eastern and Central Europe, countries entering the European Union are experiencing, under the same process, a changing interaction with time. The new pace is quicker, more demanding, unsettling. The new time is business time, larger market time, "just in time" time.
It would be superficial to believe that the changes in Eastern and Central Europe can be looked at as exclusively economic matters. Under economic changes, a lot more changes occur, underneath the surface, hidden from our view.
Glory tells us of some of these underground changes.