There is no reason for Julia to treat Tzanko disrespectfully, nor for Tzanko's modest requests to go unfulfilled, but the spiraling conflict that springs from their interactions with each other, rooted in their individual principles and flaws, forms the backbone of Glory (aka Slava), a Bulgarian thriller by the writing/directing team of Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov. Their film (with a script assist by a third person, Decho Taralezhkov) attempts to spin a web of callous minor mistakes that build into a full-blown catastrophe, but the film is more successful at generating dramatic tension than paying it off. The film's two central characters are the foundation for the movie's various twists and turns, but both feel a little consciously crafted, just a step or two removed from completely believable people, a flaw the movie never quite overcomes.
On one hand, there is Tzanko. At the ceremony in which Tzanko receives a reward for his good deed, Julia has Tzanko remove his watch, so he can receive a new one purchased by the railway company. Tzanko goes along with the media spectacle, but obviously has no plans to stop using the watch his father gave him. Julia loses the watch, but is unwilling to admit to her mistake, and focuses her energy on avoiding him, even going so far as to buy him a replacement watch -- but, without the engraving on the backside, Tzanko is unconvinced. The character speaks with a pronounced stutter, which feels like a real bid for the audience's sympathy, and is almost supernaturally calm and humble. The only thing in the film the filmmakers present as a flaw is his on-a-whim decision to see a sex worker, which never has any larger bearing on the plot, and feels like an out-of-left-field moral chide coming directly from the filmmakers rather than something that is fully contextualized within the film as a negative. Equally unexpected, but better-established: a crucial scene where Tzanko meets the minister and informs him about the gas thieves, and pressures him about missing payment for railway workers, which causes the minister to angrily cut their meeting short.
Meanwhile, Julia is presented as a somewhat ruthless career woman. She and her boyfriend, Valeri (Kitodar Todorov) are trying to have a child, but she doesn't seem to take the egg-harvesting process seriously, which frustrates Valeri, and she has no deeper interest in Tzanko beyond the fact that he could potentially be good publicity. The basic archetype of the ruthless career woman is familiar, but Julia's refusal to understand why Tzanko wants his watch back or considers it special is so exaggerated and unnatural (what person doesn't understand, even if they don't care, the sentimental value of a gift from a parent?) that it comes off more absurd than anything. While Julia stonewalls Tzanko, he is taken advantage of by a reporter, Kiril Kolev (Milko Lazarov), who also doesn't care much about the watch beyond knowing that it -- and especially Tzanko's story about the minister ignoring Tzanko's comments about his paycheck and the railway's gas thieves -- are a good story for his news program. Much like her inability to understand or care about the watch, Grozeva and Valchanov move Julia around respective of Tzanko in a way that feels mechanical -- one moment, she's on the warpath, then turns on a dime back toward sympathetic, which has the air of a screenplay intentionally aiming for the viewer's buttons rather than honestly telling a story about complex characters.
This sense of caricature trickles down to most of the supporting cast, as well. Although it's smart for Glory to acknowledge that Kiril, even if he's getting an important story out to the press, is just as manipulative toward Tzanko as Julia is, the fact that he does so maliciously takes a bit of nuance away from that thread. Grozeva and Valchanov constantly develop scenarios in which the film is forced up against two primary outcomes, and both of them are contrived in their own way, theoretically speaking to either humanity's innate goodness or its unwavering callousness. Only Julia's boyfriend Valeri feels like a completely real character, and yet he never serves much greater purpose in the film, present mostly for a pregnancy subplot that doesn't feel very integrated with the rest of the movie's ideas. The film builds to an unexpected, but underwhelming climax -- for 15 minutes, the film strings the viewer along with a certain possibility, only to go the other way, back toward an ending that fits a bit too neatly into a certain philosophical outlook.
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