The Father (Bashtata) is what is known as a “dark comedy.” It deals with grief and it deals with a strained relationship between a father and a son. But the best parts are the comic ones.
Pavel (Ivan Barnev) arrives late for his mother, Valentina’s, funeral. His father, Vasil (Ivan Savov), asks Pavel to photograph his mother in her coffin before it is definitively closed and buried. Pavel can’t do it, so Vasil grabs Pavel’s camera and does it himself.
Vasil is obsessed by the fact that just before she died, his wife told him on the phone that “I have something very important to tell you.” But then the cell phone battery died, and he never found out what she wanted to say. Meanwhile, Pavel’s aunt is convinced that she has been receiving messages on her cell phone from Valentina after she died.
Vasil insists on consulting a nearby medium to find out what Valentina is trying to say. Pavel correctly perceives that the whole thing is ridiculous. However, he feels responsible for his father and accompanies him on his crazy journey, hoping that he can bring Vasil back to his senses.
Pavel is a businessman, and he just wants to get back to his work and his pregnant wife. However, he is so frazzled that he embroils himself in a series of needless falsehoods. He never tells his father that his wife is pregnant, and he never tells his wife that his mother has just died. Thinking that Pavel is simply on a business trip, his wife asks him to bring back a special kind of quince jam, a delicacy that is not easily obtained in the rural area where Pavel finds himself. The quince jam becomes a running gag, particularly when he tries to steal some quince jam from a policeman.
The Father is directed by wife and husband Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov. As absurd as is the plot, it was inspired by an actual incident in Valchanov’s life. After his mother’s funeral, a neighbor claimed to receive a phone message from his mother after she died.
One of the bit players in The Father is a young Bulgarian actress named Maria Bakalova. When she got the part, Bakalova was so excited that she said, “This is the best day of my life!” Little could anyone imagine at the time that Bakalova would later become internationally famous when she gained the role of Borat’s daughter in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination, a Screen Actors Guild nomination and numerous film festival supporting actress awards.
Three years ago, I had the pleasure of spending time with Valchanov and screenwriter Decho Taralezhkov before moderating a question and answer session with them at a screening of their wonderful satire Glory, which Valchanov also co-directed with Grozeva. I asked Valchanov what it was like collaborating with his wife. He replied, “It’s easy. She directs the film and I do the media interviews.”