Sunday, January 22, 2012

Slamdance ’12: Faith Love + Whiskey

Sofia, Bulgaria looks like a great city for night life, but not so hot for finding a job. That is why Neli is supposed to marry her rich American fiancée. However, her lingering feelings for her reckless Bulgarian ex threaten to derail the plan in Kristina Nikolova’s Faith Love + Whiskey (trailer here), which screens during the 2012 Slamdance Film Festival in snowy Park City.

Neli’s grandmother might be losing her eyesight, but she still has that twinkle in her eye. She is delighted her granddaughter will be marrying the wealthy and attentive Scott. As far as she is concerned, there is no future for her in Bulgaria. Frankly, Scott might be a bit too nice. Stifled by it all, Neli precipitously returns to Bulgaria and launches into a bender of booze and passion with her former lover, the slightly Rutger Hauer looking Val. It is uncertain just how long they can maintain this flight from responsibility, but those dead soldiers sure do pile up fast on the balcony of their motel room.

Whiskey is a relatively simple story that takes a major New Wave-art-house turn in the third act, but it vividly evokes a sense of the Eastern European after hours vibe. It will make viewers (particularly festive Park City patrons) want to visit Sofia. Indeed, quite a bit of the Bulgarian club music heard throughout the film is surprisingly catchy and distinctive.

It would be perilously easy to lose patience with a character like Neli, but the Macedonian Ana Stojanovska projects a sense of emotional confusion more than mere self-indulgence, which is honestly quite human and relatable. Poor John Keabler does not have much to work with as the terminally nice Scott, but Ljuba Alexieva is quite charming and appealingly grounded as her silver-haired grandmother. As for Valeri Yordanov’s Val, even though he is a bit stiff on-screen, at least he is definitely a credible barroom brawler.

Although it was clearly shot on a shoe-string budget, Whiskey is quite an interesting looking movie. Alexander Stanishev’s grungy, gauzy cinematography seems perfectly suited to Bulgaria. Nikolova also capitalizes on her cinematic locales, while maintaining an intimate focus on her characters.

Whiskey is a cerebral and sensual film, which is actually a rather cool combination. It should definitely resonate deeply with former expats. Recommended for serious festivalers, it screens again this coming Wednesday (1/25) during the 2012 Slamdance Film Festival.