A Missing Watch; A Good Deed
Co-directors Kristina Grozeva’s and Petar Valchanov’s “Glory” starts with a simple premise, but becomes a look at a bureaucracy rife with cynicism, and a government that is glad to eat its most idealistic citizens.
When Tsanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov), a stuttering railroad linesman discovers millions of dollars on some rural train tracks, he turns the entire amount over to the police. The authorities are grateful and reward him with a televised ceremony and a new wristwatch. When the fancy new watch stops working, Julia Staikova (Margita Gosheva), the public relations head of the corrupt Ministry of Transport, can’t seem to find Petrov’s old watch and it was a family heirloom. Then Tsanko’s humble reality collides with a bureaucracy determined to use his “heroism” to distract the public from an emerging scandal as he desperately struggles to recover both his old watch and his dignity.
The camera follows Tsanko as he walks past men siphoning gas from a railcar and when he pauses to tighten a few lug nuts, he comes upon banknotes. Though Tsanko only pockets two bills before reporting the windfall to the authorities, the results of his actions become a broad indictment of class divisions and political and media corruption. Aside from his pet rabbits, Tsanko’s primary connection in life seems to be his watch, an analog timepiece made by the Russian company Slava, (“glory” in English). Tsanko loses the watch after the Ministry of Transport decides to use his act of nobility (of turning over the money) in order to cover over stories about the agency’s entrenched corruption: The ministry awards Tsanko a cheap digital replacement as a reward and then misplaces his family keepsake, an obvious symbol of his sense of order, tradition, and honesty (he resets the Slava before leaving for work every morning). His lost watch puts a heavy burden on Julia, the ministry’s head of public relations, who works hard to orchestrate Tsanko’s hero status while at the same time, she buries stories of corruption in her department.
Julia is a commanding, complicated antagonist and she and her devious co-workers mock Tsanko’s persona and his stutter. Once Tsanko’s frustration over his lost watch threatens to take down the Ministry of Transport, their behavior becomes even more ruthless and unnervingly efficient. “Glory” generates its suspense from the inevitability of an outcome that simultaneously jostles corrupt but powerful institutions and makes unwitting monsters of those who try to combat it. We get a damning portrait of contemporary Bulgarian society fragmented by class and the rural-urban divide, where corruption is a given and even muckrakers ignore the human element. The film quietly builds to a feeling of disaster, aided by excellent performances.
The importance of time is a key element in the film, as multiple clocks — biological as well as temporal — are everywhere from the opening moment, when a voice announces the time down to the second. As Tsanko makes sure that his watch is accurate, he listens with half an ear to the TV and a report on government corruption and it is these that are the main themes of “Glory”.
Directors Grozeva and Valchanov carefully balance the themes, weaving in just enough detail to show distinct psychological profiles. Tsanko’s reticent demeanor and quiet poise and Julia’s projection of dismissive superiority, convey two sides of Bulgaria: one representing its roots, and the other its corrupt government. The film is filled with small details; lines delivered once have payoffs later. This is an intelligent, biting and quietly powerful film that blends realism with sociopolitical commentary. The tension builds gradually as we feel Tsanko’s pain and anger throughout his desperate struggle to retrieve his wristwatch. Then that anger comes to the surface in a way that’s organic and believable while leading to climax that is shocking, bold, disturbing and haunting.