Monday, February 16, 2015

The Lesson Review: Bulgaria/Greece Dramatic Co-Production A Class Act On Toxic Neo-Colonialism



Economic crisis cinema in these unrelenting hard times, even when simply subtextual to larger themes, has mushroomed as we've observed, into somewhat of a genre in its own right in this country. But European cinema may be catching up these days with their own end stage capitalism mass misery. And the Bulgarian combo domestic drama/moral thriller The Lesson [Urok] as revelation raises those bitter stakes with its post-Soviet, been there done that reverse requiem of despair under the domination of the dollar, kicking in as well.

And with much more than just classroom lessons to be learned, or maybe not, in the solemn and disturbing The Lesson. And like many other post-USSR films preceding this one edging back down memory lane, and possibly playing out as a kind of second thoughts cinema evolving across Eastern Europe ever since then.

That is, seemingly spontaneously precipitated as sobering reflection since the overthrow of the Soviet Union twenty-five years ago - and Eastern Europe turned into a vast, occupied US/Nato military parking lot. And that The Lesson is a Bulgarian co-production with a Greece currently in mass uprising, may in a more immediate economic and sociopolitical hindsight sense, be no mere coincidence.

Nade [Margita Gosheva] is a middle class mother and teacher of preteens, and reluctant family breadwinner married to a slacker spouse. Silently resigned to her fate and struggling to make ends meet translating documents into English for a company that keeps making excuses not to pay her, Nade is likewise an English language teacher - and in a telling narrative thread under the increasing Americanization under the basically unannounced occupation of that country.

While concurrent US values seem to have seeped into the culture as well, epitomized in the new predatory money lust and ruthless greed under the establishment of capitalism. And epitomized in a classroom incident that infuriates the normally passive Nade, when one student steal another's wallet and refuses to confess. Nor does anyone in the class seem to care, or offer witness testimony.

And as a woman who appears to still be imbued with the ethical sense of collective unity under socialism, a frustrated Nade insists that everyone among these indifferent students contribute a portion of their own money to the victim, to compensate for what was stolen. But even this mandatory gesture fails to comfort the teacher, who remains distraught and fixated on this troubling lack of humanity evidently afflicting the next generation.

But Nade is soon caught up in her own personal victimhood, when threatened with eviction and the auctioning of her home within a day for lack of payments to the bank in question. Thus begins a terrifying race against the clock alternately sorrowful and suspenseful quest. And at one point leading Nade in desperation to beg strangers on the street for money, and then reluctantly rolling up her sleeves and scooping coins out of a park fountain so she might run to the bank and avert the eviction within minutes of closing time. Though her troubles are apparently just beginning, as Nade herself is dragged down the rabbit hole of debasement and demoralization.

The Lesson is as potent and gripping in its own way, as the iconic, trailblazing race against the clock 1950 noir D.O.A., as visited upon Edmond O'Brien's Frank Bigelow. But while D.O.A. involved an actual toxin that is frantically confronted, this bleak film's poison is more metaphorical as a component of perplexing survival, though no less penetrating and potentially irreversible - capitalism and socioeconomic corruption of the soul, despite one's best intentions.

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