(Bulgaria/Germany, 82 min.)
Dir. Ilian Metev
Featuring: Mila Mihova, Nikolay
Programme: Discovery (North American Premiere)
What are some of the traits that come to mind when one imagines a “festival film”? Long takes? Hand held camerawork? Non-professional actors? Kitchen sink realism? Natural light? Silence?
Director Ilian Metev’s first narrative work, 3/4, has every “festival film” cliché imaginable, which is too bad since there’s a lot to admire in the way he captures the melancholic atmosphere of grief and anger that comes with death. The film will undoubtedly find many fans—it’s already won the top prize from the Cinema of the Present sidebar at the Locarno Film Festival—but will prove taxing for others.
3/4 might have been a great film if its running time lost three-quarters of its length. Each of its 82 minutes feels protracted with restless silences, long takes, and low-key non-actors. The film follows Metev’s acclaimed feature documentary Sofia’s Last Ambulance and uses his aesthetic for a slice of docu-fiction that observes the daily goings-on in a small Bulgarian family.
Sister Mila (Mila Milhova) and brother Niki (Nikolay Mashalov) have a relationship typical of most siblings, which Metev captures in an episodic series of scenes of domesticity and shrill horsing around.
Their quiet and emotionally detached father Todor (Todor Veltchev) shows more concern for his work and students than for the well-being of his kids. Mila and Niki both struggle with the lack of structure and support in their lives. Their mother, the titular missing quarter of the film’s title, is an ever-present absence of which the characters do not speak.
Metev certainly has style and his observational approach lets the naturalism of the family dynamic resonate to a degree. The film’s cinematography often outweighs the mundane action it captures as soft natural light offers a few rays of warmth while assured, fluid camerawork lets the lens hover intimately close to the characters without invading their space. The fictional elements of the film are its downfall, however, since the inexperience of the actors often makes the conceit feel artificial. One doesn’t approach a piece of Bulgarian docu-fiction expecting a barrel of laughs, but 3/4 is an exercise in patience.
TIFF runs Sept. 7-17. Visit TIFF.net for more info on this year’s festival.