A Film a Week - Directions / Posoki

Some say the best way to get to know some country is travelling its roads. The same goes with cities and streets, preferably by walking, but driving or being driven also helps. And here we are on the territory of cabbies and their stories and anecdotes: Stephan Komandarev’s Directions examines Sofia and Bulgarian society in general through the series of kinda-sorta connected short stories from the taxi rides.

The first one starts as a family piece, a nervous, stressed small entrepreneur father drives his daughter to school, giving orders and instructions to his workers over the phone, then turns into socially aware farce when the girl goes out and high school-age prostitute gets in, just to end as a tragedy when that cabbie-entrepreneur is confronted with the banker who tries to squeeze him for bribe. “We make the laws for us, not for you”, the banker says and sets the mood of the film: a country completing the transition to capitalism, corruption, erosion of the values, gaping class divide, the whole nine yards. That story, the only one set and shot in daytime, will be just some news over the radio in the others, with citizens commenting and sympathizing with the taxi driver taking the justice in his own hands.

In the ones that follow, we will see a medley of short stories. A surgeon goes to work in his Sofia hospital for the last time before moving to Germany, opening the subject of leaving “the country of optimists (because all the pessimists and realists have already left)”. A melancholic young driver saves a philosophy teacher in debt from suicide. A lawyer gets in trouble for exposing his driver as a cheater. And so on, and so on.

“Cab stories” are not that new in cinema. Let us just remember Jarmusch’s modern classic Night on Earth and the stories happening around the same time in big cities from Los Angeles to Helsinki. It was a bit uneven, as all “short story collections” are, but it was well done, cool and soulful. The problem with Directions is not that it is uneven, it is, and its stories vary in length and mood, but the fact that Jarmusch’s Earth is reduced to one very particular city with its particular problems that are staple diet of East European cinema.

Komandarev’s film has its moments, there is some ingenuity and gentleness and definitely there is some heart and even humour. But how far can you go hitting all the same tones of corruption, capitalism, crime, class, especially in the form of short. With a more thorough selection of the material that would or would not get in the final version, better character development and focus on more personal, quieter moments and universal topics, Directions would be a better film. But the spotlight on the socio-political context makes it more of a statement.

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