By Devapriya Sanyal.
At first glance it may seem that Glory, the new Bulgarian film directed by Petar Valchanov and Kristina Grozeva, belongs to Tzanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov), the honest but simple linesman who returns the cash he finds on a railway track he services. In the beginning nothing much happens – you meet Petrov who is listening to a news show on the corruption of the Bulgaraian Transport minister. These closed interior shots give a sense of claustrophobia and a sense of repetition and drudgery. The tempo of the film picks up after Tzanko discovers a stash of cash lying by the side of the track and one is almost led to believe that he will take it all and keep it for himself. However, in a surprising move, Tzanko hands it over to the police and is soon declared a national hero. The ministry of transport sets up a ceremony of sorts to felicitate the linesman, in actuality publicizing themselves.
Running parallel to the story of Tzanko is Julia Straykova’s (Margita Gosheva). The publications relations rep for the Minister of Transport, Julia comes across as a ruthless, self serving woman who prioritizes her career over family life. When first introduced, she seeks help from an IVF specialist. For the most part of the meeting with her doctor she is on the phone arranging for Tzanko’s appearance on television and even vanishes from the office to see to the arrangements. Her husband, whom she scolds and seems to dominate on numerous occasions, is supportive and caring. The contrasts set up, it’s only a matter of time before the audience passes judgment. She is not liked by her colleagues, who take to lewd gestures to express their indignation at her dictatorial ways. She literally pulls off the pants of one of her male colleagues to accommodate Tzanko who has spoilt his while having a bottle of cold drink. Not interested in becoming a mother at the expense of her career, she walks out of the fertility clinic and her appointment to get treated when there is a crisis of sorts with Tzanko, having spilt the beans on the transport ministry to an investigative journalist, Kiril Kolev. Kolev too is exploitative in cashing in Tzanko’s sentiments over his lost Glory. It is interesting to note that the word play is in fact around “Glory” – one, which stands for the watch that Tzanko loses, thanks to Julia, and the other is the recognition that the ministry is apparently trying to given Petrov for his honesty. As Tzanko puts it poignantly to Kolev, “She took my Glory and gave me back the fake Glory.” For Tzanko is much happier doing his job, while looking after his pet rabbit and watering his plants. It is actually Julia who snatches away his old life for her own ends and destroys it completely. She comes across as ruthless and oblivious to the pain of others, especially when she refuses time and again to talk to Tzanko about the loss of his precious watch which is obviously very dear to him. The film portrays greed and human life as cheap, as a result. While celebrating a figure like Tzanko, the film ends up demonizing Julia. Though a victim of patricarchy, she would have benefitted from a more complex and sensitive treatment.
Spoiler alert: It is only after Julia has managed to destroy Tzanko’s life completely – by planting cash in his home so as to implicate him, and then getting him locked up in a cell by calling in some favours from a friend so as to get Tzanko to apologise on national television for his insinuations that the ministry is corrupt. She finally regrets what she has done. As she sits complacently at a press conference, happy beyond words at having witnessed a successful embryo implantation, she comes across a news item about a linesman having jumped to his death in front of a train. Driven by regret at having treated Tzanko so shabbily she sets about making amends first by calling him on his number to find out whether he is alive and then trying to locate the much beloved watch. The callous attitude of Julia’s prompts Tzanko to seek Kolev’s help only to be exploited again by Kolev who uses him to sell his news and prompt high TRP ratings. The news item unfortunately not only exposes the minister but also Tzanko whose revelation that some of his colleagues have been systematically siphoning off fuel from the locomotives prompts them to pick him up in a car, leaving the viewer with the feeling that things won’t go very well for him. Immediately after that Julia reads the piece of news that disturbs her as well as the audience for we are led to believe that perhaps Tzanko’s colleagues in fact have murdered him out of rage.
Julia finds the timepiece in a most unlikely place: her husband’s car. She is happy having got it back and makes her way to return it to the owner. Tzanko looks bruised and hurt and changed. The gentle, soft spoken, hesitant, stammering Tzanko picks up a shovel like instrument as Julia tries to place the watch. The directors choose to leave the closing open-ended but we can surmise that while Tzanko may have survived his ordeal, Julia may not survive hers. Perhaps inevitable, the ending and its lead up leave a misogynistic feeling. The film demonises Julia while setting up contrasting with the overshadowing heroism and loyalty of Tzanko and her husband, who cherishes human values and is most sympathetic to Tzanko’s plight. The directors announce that the film in fact is a metafilm evinced by Kolev’s statement, “We can’t have a show about timepieces only.” The film in fact also explores the power of the media and how it manages to make a hero of a most unassuming man via the arrogance expressed through Julia: “I have made you a hero.” Then poor man tells her that she in fact has returned to him a Glory which is not his.
The film is also an exploration of the many levels of corruption in Bulgarian society and how, instead of celebrating Tzanko’s honestly, it in fact exploits him for mockery. In this I am reminded of the Hindi language film, Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya (1983), which also revolves around an honest police officer, played by Om Puri, who tries to fight against corruption in his department but in the end succumbs to its power by giving up his life. Glory in this sense is satisfying because Tzanko, even if not well, at least survives. With its universal appeal, the film depicts the sad truth that the personal ideals of love and kindness don’t matter; what matters is what sells.
Devapriya Sanyal has a Ph.D. in English Literature from JNU, India. She is the author of From Text to Screen: Issues and Images in Schindler’s List. Her biography on Soumendu Roy, Satyajit Ray’s cinematographer, is forthcoming.