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Written by: Alexander Gabelia
The first thing we see in ROUNDS / V KRUG (2019) is a police car interior with two officers who drive slowly around Sofia at night, talk about modern Bulgaria, and try to identify what has changed in the country in the post-1989 period. People’s attitude towards the socialist and the post-socialist bloc clash in this first dialogue, whose nature is essentially humorous. This is how the Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev attempts to convey the moods in the country and fills the screen with shades of absurd and black comedy.
The structure of the film informs on six policemen (split in three police cars) who are on duty at night. The director uses the characteristic aesthetics of road movies, with elements of documentary filmmaking brought by the hand-held camera of Vesselin Hristov, as well as shots from the subjective perspective of the drivers to make the audience feel part of the journey. We often see the city through the windshields of the police cars and explore its atmosphere through dialogues heavily soaked with the director’s political messages. The cops’ attitude to incidents often reflects the bureaucratic nature of this state institution and the frivolous stance on all levels of its power structure. In a number of scenes, the directorial methods (be it cine-camera, humor, or acting) work, but some episodes may seem overdone to viewers because of the neglect of the sense of moderation. Stephan Komandarev seeks to discourage the protagonists from human nature and thereby shows us that the degraded institution’s employees still have human feelings (this would be to ignore the “written rules” and save a dying child or care for a former teacher) and often face similar social and cultural problems as large groups of society. This artistic solution may remind us of Corneliu Porumboiu’s POLICE, ADJECTIVE / POLITIST, ADJECTIV (2009), where the notions of humanity, forgiveness, and empathy are replaced by “rules” written in the explanatory dictionary.
As a matter of fact, the changes within the police institution have been quite painful for all post-socialist countries. Despite the “democratization process”, the police have become an establishment in many countries founded on bureaucracy and dishonest money. At the same time, the law enforcement has often turned into a punitive organization (with the idea of zero tolerance) that massively abuses people and pursues the interests of the hegemonic neoliberal economic elite (this issue may not be new to Central Europe either, but in this case we often have to deal with structural oppression/crime). According to Peter H. Solomon, professor of the University of Toronto (in Political Science, Law and Criminology): “All post-socialist societies experienced an explosion of regular and transnational organised crime […] the criminalisation of the economy through growth of the shadow economy and links between organised crime and corrupt state officials.” But the central question is how the state apparatus works to eliminate this problem. Through the efforts of those who sold the technical and industrial resources of post-communist countries at the expense of scrap metal and contributed to the rise of mass inequality.
Stephan Komandarev’s ROUNDS divides the question of the structural nature (bureaucratic and corrupt) of the police and the current political processes in modern Bulgaria. However, the main problem of the film is its artistic expression and creative monotony. The author strives to create original and autonomous film language through humor and absurdity, but Komandarev is locked in his own structure and often offers us inconsistent, banal, and boring scenes. So the cinematic rhythm and technical nuances are definitely problematic. Just black comedy and a few political comments are not enough to make a good movie.
Written by Alexander Gabelia under the mentorship of Dana Linssen and Yoana Pavlova as part of the 13th edition of Talents Sarajevo