The Color of the Chameleon, a Darkly Funny, Surreal Story about Bulgarian Secret Police
By Liz Ferguson
In Communist-era Bulgaria, a student named Batko is recruited by the secret police to spy on his peers. He's told to pick a code name and chooses Marzipan.
(Does this indicate a sweet tooth, or is he still a child at heart?)
The assignments that he's given are totally absurd and the reports that he writes are even more so. Naturally, Kafka comes to mind.
After Batko's handler cuts him loose because of a blunder by his landlady, (involving the premature cracking of some special eggs) Batko blithely sets up a spy network of his own, using the same spiel that was used on him. Everyone signs a contract, which comes in very handy later on, as do the photos and the creative video that he has them shoot.
Batko starts out relatively small and bland but seems to grow larger and more colourful as he builds his expertise and confidence.
Batko is played by Ruscen (Rushi) Vidinliev, who's also a pop star. He probably knows a thing or two about presence and charisma. (Vidinliev reminds me of another actor, American, or possibly French, but I haven't yet figured out which one. Film fans, please feel free to comment.)
Even though I found The Color of the Chameleon quite entertaining, I do think it could have been trimmed a bit.
Funny as it is, I'm sure I missed many references that might have had Bulgarians, and others more familiar with that country's history, falling right off their chairs.
Iconic photograph: When Batko gets work at a printing plant, he learns how to etch a plate by reproducing a famous photograph of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker, the East German leader who built the Berlin Wall, locked tight in an exceedingly comradely clinch.
Connections: Director Emil Christov was the cameraman for Tuvalu (1999), and Zift (2008).
Tuvalu was shown at the Fantasia Film Festival in 2000. It was directed by Veit Helmer; his Baikonur will be shown at FNC this year.
Zift was shown at FNC in 2008.
Vladislav Todorov wrote Zift and The Color of the Chameleon.
The Color of the Chameleon (Zincograph)
Director: Emil Christov
Cast: Ruscen Vidinliev, Irena Milyankova, Rousy Chanev, Deyan Donkov, Svetlana Yancheva, Samuel Finzi
Runtime: 114 minutes
The Color of the Chameleon will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 7:30 p.m., at the Cinéplex Odéon Quartier Latin, Salle B, as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma.