Saturday, December 15, 2012

Submitted By Bulgaria: Sneakers

When the youth of Bulgaria feel alienated, evidently they head to the beach.  It makes more sense than moping about a housing project.  Six disaffected slackers enjoy an idyllic retreat, but it can only last so long in Ivan Vladimirov & Valeri Yordanov’s Sneakers (trailer here), which has been selected by Bulgaria as their official foreign language Academy Award submission.

No girly-girl, Emi beats the snot out of her mother’s abusive boyfriend.  Turkish immigrant Gray has no shot with her, but he loyally follows her anyway. Eventually, they hook-up with Blackbird, a too cool to care coffeehouse performer, and his dedicated ex-boxer pal, Wee.  Having pummeled some lowlifes in a bar brawl, they are also looking for a change of scenery.  With no general plans, the four crash at the beach, where half-aspiring filmmakers Ivo and Fatso soon turn up.

The combination of a lot of booze, angst, the cute but sexually ambiguous Emi, and five guys, two of whom are very definitely attracted to her, ought to spell trouble.  Yet, whenever the film perches on the brink of conflict, the six dropouts resolve it rather simply (up until co-director-co-star Yordanov’s screenplay takes a weird climatic turn into left field).  While that might be rather appealing in the abstract, it is dramatically self-defeating.  There are also several conversations you might have to be Bulgarian—and possibly drunk—to get.

While Sneakers’ narrative is not really anything to write home about, it offers some appealing scenes of fun in the Black Sea sun.  Cinematographer Rali Raltschev deserves a citation of honor from the Bulgarian tourism bureau.  Yordanov, who made a real meathead impression in Kristina Nikolova’s Faith Love + Whiskey, acquits himself quite well, at least in front of the camera.  In fact, the ensemble performances are easily the strongest aspect of the film, with Philip Avramov and Ina Nikolova doing particularly sensitive, well-calibrated work as Blackbird and Emi, respectively.

A bit awkward at times, Sneakers is still perfectly presentable on the festival circuit, but it is most likely not bound for Oscar glory.  For professionals, it is definitely worth checking out for a look at its talented young cast.  Sneakers has screened in New York at a Bulgarian festival, but it ought to have a bit more fest action ahead of it, thanks to its Oscar contention status.