DIR/WRI:Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov • PRO: Konstantina Stavrianou, Petar Valchanov, Irini Vougioukalou • DOP: Krum Rodriguez • ED: Petar Valchanov • DES: Vanina Geleva • CAST: Margita Gosheva, Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov, Stefan Denolyubov, Ivanka Bratoeva
The unforgiving reality of debt repayments and the overwhelming pressures that financial providers place on the individual is the theme of this Bulgarian drama by director Kristina Grozeva. Nade is a middle-aged school teacher, highly educated and struggling thanks to her husband’s uselessness with money. Instead of paying back the repayments on their family home, Nade’s husband has been buying parts for his broken and irreparable camper van with the hope of one day making the value of the van back with its prospective sale. Needless to say the scheme fails and when Nade returns home from school one day she encounters the bailiff’s attempting to repossess the home. With three days left before the bank put up the house for mortgage, it is up to Nade to come up with the desperately needed cash.
The film opens with Nada standing in front of her class, questioning the room as to the whereabouts of a student’s stolen purse. In retribution for the refusal of the culprit to come forward, Nada makes the class as a whole cover the cost of the student’s lunch. Such a brief allegory on the collective socialisation of private debt brings a more universal concern to the private life of Nada and the film in general. Nada is performed tellingly by Margita Grazeva, a role that engrosses the audience by the subtleties of her dramatic performance, always constrained and real, of a woman under threat yet unwilling to let the family around her or her society understand the strain she is under.
Within this middle class pride, of retaining face and Nada’s refusal to expose to anyone that can help her how close she is to desperate circumstances, show a woman of unflinching independence, of taking charge of her family’s fortunes. At times, the numerous and unending unfortunate occurrences, from the token flat tire on the mad rush to the bank before closing time to the stolen money when it is needed most pivotally, could make a lesser film falter. Yet in this case perfectly highlights the numerous tragedies that the desperate daily encounter, when every obstacle becomes a Sisyphean task of survival.
Margita Grazeva’s performance is riveting and allows what could be a weak plot to be overcome as we are drawn further into a psychological exploration of desperation and social façades. Our empathy at times for Nada makes The Lesson a tough watch because of its constant implications and presence of being plunged fully and wholly into desperation. Especially with the introduction of the moneylenders and their seedy representation of money as a control over the autonomy of one’s body and the constant threat they represent.
The director, Kristina Groseva, has created a film of brilliant emotional resonance, the realism of her profile of the teacher uncompromising in its promotion of the individual and their right to dignity, even when surrounded by the callousness of bureaucratic institutions and financial lenders that offer nothing of the like. The lack of addition to the film of any soundtrack serves wisely in removing any emotional distances between the audience and the protagonist.
By the film’s end, the plot comes full circle as once again we are brought back into Nade’s classroom and the lesson of theft is brought back into focus. Nada’s response to the perpetrator bundles up the central morale of the story. This film is indeed a lesson and a timely portrait to the daily desperation that exists in the west as the values of the community and the individual within these communities come into stark contrast with the valueless ideologies of finance.
The Lesson is released 4th December 2015