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Review: “The good driver”


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“The good driver”

Director: Tonislav Hristov

Screenplay: Kaarle Aho, Konstantin Bojanov, Tonislav Hristov

Cast: Malin Krastev, Gerasim Georgiev, Alma Pöysti, Slava Doycheva, Amos Brotherus and others. Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes. Languages: Bulgarian, English, Finnish. Cinema.

Two old friends, Ivan and Ludmil, have returned to their home village in the Bulgarian countryside. Perhaps you shouldn’t compare them to Helan and Halvan, even if there are physical conditions for that. Because nothing is very funny in “The good driver”, which takes place around the great refugee year of 2015. At the same time, it is a film with an eye for pitiful human interactions and tragicomic dimensions.

The half in question, i.e. Ivan, is an old boxer who looks totally defeated in his lowered appearance. We later understand that there is an explanation for that, beyond Mom’s funeral that opens the film. Her state of health was rather a reason to return to Bulgaria after the years in Finland.

Will Ivan manage to rise again? In any case, he puts away money in a shoebox from the nightly drives in the charter resort of Sunny Beach, where Ludmil has a job as a doorman and shady connections at a nightclub.

The meek but effective “The good driver” deals with a clear aftermath. Something has happened, both to Ivan and the world around him. The village used to be like a big family, complains Ludmil’s mother. People exchange smiles and swear words, dance or play football together. It doesn’t make Ivan shine but represents the rubble of a context. Now the village is divided between robbery and humanism. The EU flag hangs on a wall at the police station, but no one sits and hums “An die Freude”. “The good driver” is rather a disillusioned ground report from the outer edge of the Union.

This is director Tonislav Hristov’s feature film debut – he previously directed the semi-documentary “The good postman” (2016) in which a Bulgarian postman on the Turkish border tries to welcome Syrian refugees to the village.

The new film is thus a kind of sequel and Ivan soon starts driving passengers other than sun tourists. He is given reason to doubt his own goodness as he smokes another cigarette in his tracksuit. Malin Krastev’s performance is a wonder of powerlessness in a film about an absent father’s return and forgiveness.

“The good driver” reminds of the refugee crisis that never ended – families are torn apart and people still perish on the way to Europe. The driver himself gets stuck in front of home videos of a little boy who turns out to be the son left behind in Finland. The land in the north seems like an impossible dream for someone like Ivan. There is division and inequality even within Europe, but Tonislav Hristov shows that resignation does not have to exclude solidarity.

See more. Three other films after the refugee crisis in 2015: “Beyond Lampedusa” (2016), “Light in the night” (2017), “Exodus” (2023).

Read more film and television reviews in DN and more texts by Jacob Lundström.

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