The Michelle Bonev Scandal: Farewell, Bulgarian Cinema
She used to be a poor girl, but she has never lost her bravery and believes in her dreams. She is born in the obscure state of Bulgaria, but she went through a lot of hardships and there she is now - a movie star in Italy! She has portrayed the main character in her self-directed award-winning movie "Farewell, Mom". And as she walks the red carpet to receive her award from the world renown Venice Film Fest on the historical date of September 4 2010, tears of joy come to the eyes of the spectators. Even the Italian Prime Minister is extremely enchanted by the beautiful and talented Bulgarian lady and sends her a greeting letter.
This deeply touching story ends with a typical nasty Bulgarian twist. As it turned out, Michelle Bonev has received the fabricated "Action for Women" award created exclusively for her due to Italian Minister of Culture Sandro Bondi's pressure on the Fest's organizers.
A short introduction to the story's main character: Michelle Bonev, virtually unknown in her home country, has been living in Italy for many years, where she enjoys a somewhat scandalous reputation. Describing herself as a "writer, scriptwriter, actress, film director and entrepreneur," she is known mainly for her close relations with the director of the Italian national television and other important people, most notably Silvio Berlusconi.
The award, "dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the European convention for protection of human rights", was proudly handed to Bonev as a result of a reportedly recorded phone conversation between Sandro Bondi and his Deputy Cinema Minister Nicolo Boreli, in which Bondi states that Berlusconi has demanded that Bonev's movie be shown in Venice and "some kind of prize" be given to her.
Bonev herself claims to be a close friend with both Berlusconi and his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borisov. Whether she even knows Borisov personally is doubtful, all we know is that she has been seen applauding his fantastic football skills.
Now, without going into further details about the Italian dimensions of this scandal, however peculiar they might be, I would focus on the aspects of the never absent "Bulgarian connection." How shameful is it this time?
First of all, Bulgaria's Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov headed a 40-strong delegation to Venice especially for the ceremony. It has been made clear, fortunately, that no Bulgarian taxpayers' money has been involved in financing the delegation. It is, however, quite questionable whether a high-level Bulgarian political figure should participate in a mockery such as this.
As always, the Bulgarian Prime Minister knows the answer:
"I am sorry, I think Ms. Bonev's looks might have lowered his self-preservation instincts, and he failed to check in detail, who and how exactly invited him. I think Rashidov learned his lesson and would not repeat the mistake," Borisov commented in his trademark macho style on Rashidov's role in the whole mess. So, the presence of a beautiful lady is a sufficient excuse for the Minister's actions, case closed.
Rashidov, meanwhile, also tried to defend himself, pointing out he "did not know who paid the bill for the ceremony" and clarifying that he thought it was the Italian Ministry of Culture, thus stating that being clueless is somehow a solid alibi in this case.
It was actually Bonev who paid for the flight of the delegation and the gala afterwards, as she herself admitted...
By the way, Vezhdi Rashidov's participation in this intriguing story calls for an uncanny association with a hit Bulgarian movie - the refreshing comedy "Mission London" (2010), in which Bulgarian officials' lack of competence and "a little misunderstanding" with a PR firm that provides look-alike royalties turn the simple task of organizing a Bulgarian concert in London into a grotesque nightmare, while the Bulgarians have once again no idea they have not actually met the British Queen.
Secondly, as it turns out, Bulgaria's National Movie Center has invested BGN 300 000 in "Farewell, Mom", even though the script was not even initially approved by a special commission. This is not a negligible sum, given the harsh economic conditions the Bulgarian movie industry (and culture as a whole) has been experiencing for quite a while.
Even though it was co-financed by the state, Bonev's move has never been shown in Bulgaria. Neither has it been shown in Italy after the award ceremony, for that matter. Could this phantom production turn out to be a brilliant postmodern twist - a non-existing piece of art?
All irony aside - and Michelle Bonev aside - I would like to point out that the Bulgarian cinema has been enjoying what seems to be a revival recently - with the likes of the beautiful and meaningful drama "Eastern Plays" (2009) and the quite decent "The World Is Big but Salvation Lurks Around the Corner" (2008) winning actual prizes from movie fests around the world - and, more importantly, bringing some Bulgarians back to theaters. The latter is not an easy task, considering the "if it is Bulgarian, it should be lousy" mentality of this particular nation.
This small revival process, though, might face an abrupt end, as amendments to the Film Industry Act, basically releasing the state from obligations to subsidize film making in the country are prepared. According to the amendments, the state budget will pay -"provided there is an opportunity" - for "up to 7 motion pictures" each year. The amendments, of course, resulted in protests, as the "up to 7" interval obviously includes 0.
In comparison, as many as 30 Bulgarian movies were produced each year under the Communist Era. Now, I do not mean to eulogize this period - and sure - many of these movies were pure propaganda. But numerous examples of high-class art were also shot back then, including the masterpiece "The Goat Horn (1972)" and the multitude of strikingly witty comedies, which have been enjoyed by millions of viewers from a couple of generations.
I want to hereby address the Bulgarian filmmakers and tell them to cheer up. Do not let the title of the current article bring you down! "Crisis" means also "opportunity", does it not?
In a humble effort to cheer you up, I wish to suggest a couple of fresh ideas for new Bulgarian blockbusters - "provided there is an opportunity". They are all only from the last week:
"Spartacus - The Never-Ending Sequel"
The title may be misleading, as it sounds rather historical. The pure "epicness' of this political thriller, though, surpasses most of what we have seen in historical movies.
A mysterious meeting between a secret agent, an Interior Minister from Bulgaria's former three-way government and a bunch of alleged criminals at the Spartak pool in Sofia back in 2006 leads to a series of shocking "revelations", such as the former Interior Minister allegedly arranging the drug traffic in Sofia, the secret agent being allegedly the mysterious "Octopus" - the head of Bulgaria's crime world, his alleged ties with the current Prime Minister, the President and everyone's alleged ties with everyone. Not to mention the current Interior Minister's alleged illegal property and the former Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor allegedly killing people. All that leading to a myriad of never ending breathtaking trials.
Be careful with this plot, though, because it is insanely intricate and is basically going nowhere: the viewers might be tempted to switch to a love-related soap opera instead.
"Race Wars: Attack of the Minorities",
or "2050: A Demographic Crisis Odyssey in Bulgaria"
Those titles actually represent the same story line shown from two different angles.
The first one: The year is, needless to say, 2050. As predicted by an ancient survey, dating November 2010, millions of Turks and gypsies (turned into terrifying monster robots by "those bastard politicians, who pay their electricity bills") roam and pillage the desolate streets of what in the past have been Bulgarian cities. The protagonists, the only few Bulgarians left on Earth, somehow get hold of some plane tickets and escape.
This plot is quite simplistic, but it would surely touch Bulgarian viewers, and will immediately unite them, making them forget all past conflicts, reminding them to stay focused on their "real enemies" - Turks and gypsies.
There is nothing like fear when it comes to attracting an ignorant audience
The second one will surely have less of a commercial success: A thought-provoking movie, handling the problems of a nation in a serious decline, the continuing downgrading of any moral values and ideals, whether there is a way to counter these tendencies and whether killing the culture in a society equals killing the society itself.