The protagonist of Blaga’s Lessons (Urotcite na Blaga) is Blaga Naumova (Eli Skorcheva), a 70-year-old retired teacher, whose husband, a former police officer has died. She wants to use her limited savings to buy a proper grave to honor her husband. But, according to tradition, she has to do so within forty days to guarantee his entry into a peaceful afterlife. The man selling the grave of her choice tells her, “It’s a market economy, whoever pays first gets the grave.”

Blaga gets a call from the police asking her to throw her savings out the window to help the police catch a scam artist. But it isn’t really the police; it’s a scam, and she loses all the money she was intending to use for her husband’s grave. Blaga’s only source of income other than her pension comes from giving Bulgarian language lessons to a student from Syria (Rozalia Abgarian) who is trying to gain Bulgarian citizenship.

The real police convince Blaga to tell her story at a seminar to warn others against falling for the same trick. A reporter asks her, “You seem so intelligent, how could you do such a stupid thing?” The story winds up on the front page of a tabloid newspaper with Blaga’s photograph and the headline, “Has She Got Dementia?”

Blaga sees an ad that she recognizes as a cover by the scammers looking for someone to pick up the money tossed to the ground by naïve victims such as herself. Her student innocently helps her set up an account which appears to represent a young woman. And Blaga goes into business working for the same people who scammed her.

Eli Skorcheva, who does a superb job playing Blaga, was a famous actress in Bulgaria in the 1980s. Then she stopped acting for thirty years because of a combination of her active involvement in the anti-communist movement and then the collapse of funding for the film industry after the fall of communism. She took a job overseeing custodial staff and working as a janitor herself. She met director Stephan Komandarev at a dog park and he convinced her to return to the cinema.

Komandarev was chosen to represent Bulgaria at the Academy Awards twice before. His film The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner was shortlisted for 2009 Academy Awards. His film The Judgment represented Bulgaria in 2015. To research Blaga’s Lessons, Komandarev, a former medical doctor, not only interviewed actual victims of this particular scam, but one of the scammers himself, who was in prison (where he died of COVID-19) when they met.

I had the opportunity to moderate a question and answer session with Komandarev after a screening for Academy and guild members. While the film was showing, he and I chatted outside. He told me, “After the fall of communism in Bulgaria, we learned that everything they told us about communism was false, but everything they warned us about capitalism turned out to be true.”