BLIND SPOT (Bulgaria)
Writer-director Stefka Mancheva is a recent graduate in Film Directing from the New Bulgarian University. She completed her course of study in 2007, and spent the next ten years traveling the world — a roller-coaster adventure that took her to 14 countries on three continents. Last year, she returned to her alma mater and her first love — filmmaking, and completed her graduation film to obtain her final degree.
She’s preparing to shoot her short Creme Caramel, with which she participate in the New Arrivals: GoShort Campus 2018. Blind Spot will be her feature debut.
A small provincial town in the 1990s. It’s Tuesday, a day of turmoil. Twelve-year-old Toshko has hung himself. The school authorities are trying to enact a delicate approach. A group of citizens are eager to offer their help. Everyone awaits the final coroner’s report, after which Toshko is to be buried.
Vyara (12) is on the verge of adolescence. She has been allowed in a secret circle of girls her age and is eager to secure the inclusion of her best friend , Poli, as well. The groups’s main goal is to prepare its members for a respectable transition into puberty, namely the perfecting of the French kiss. If the girls manage to cross this threshold with skill and savvy, everything else will follow with ease and cheer and they will be transported into a completely different world (according to the highly reliable information provided by an eight-grader). The girls approach their task with discipline and precision, relying on a variety of resources — TV dramas, “pink” novels, and, thanks to Poli, a VHS of erotica belonging to Mrs. Todorova, Poli’s mother and the head teacher at their school.
When Mrs. Todorova catches wind of these activities, shame and betrayal abound. Cast as
the initiator, Vyara becomes the scapegoat and is separated from the group by Mrs. Todorova. Poli’s the only one upset by this turn of events, but being the head teacher’s daughter, she can’t do much but obey the orders to stay away from her friend.
In the meantime, trying to make sense of Toshko’s death, the citizens unite around two versions. Te first relies on an incompetent mother with hints of inappropriate display of sexuality, for word on the block is she wears a red dress on her night shift. The second version focuses on a serial killer. In truth, the citizens have never seen Toshko’s mother and there has not been a serial killer in the region, but a suicide at such a tender age is also a novel concept for them, and one that is simply inadmissible.
There are strong undercurrents of tension in Vyara’s home — adultery among the parents, the awakening of her sister’s sexuality. Secrecy, aggression, and desire surface in the small apartment at night. The events unfolding around Vyara take no interest in her, and she tries to reciprocate the apathy. But that’s no easy task.
Tension gathers at the core of Vyara and she doesn’t know how to handle or release it. She wanders the river banks. There are two bridges there. One is the railroad and the passage of each train offers 30 seconds of horror and exaltation to Vyara who sits curled on the small landing under the railroad. Under the second bridge — a concrete one — she witnesses an underage prostitute give a blowjob to a client. The sex scene is devoid of soft light, white lace and tulle veils like in Mrs. Todorova’s erotica tapes. Spit, hair, cheap make-up smudged across the girl’s sweaty face — Vyara takes in each detail with jarring sharpness, overwhelmed by the physicality of the act.
The serial killer version has taken precedence in town. The citizens have lively discussions over soft drinks and French fries and, taking over what would normally be the family’s prerogative, demand a new coroner’s report. On the surface, they are driven by their empathy and compassion for Toshko’s mother, but her refusal to partake in their initiative is
met with distaste. Still, a plastic box is being filled with donations for the bereaved family.
At school, Vyara watches her classmates discover the advantages of conformity as teachers tolerate and encourage compliance and servility. Her isolation grows greater by the day, but she has her mind set on hiding it.
Vyara spots her sister’s charming suitor with a different girl. He’s somehow gentler with her. Vyara doesn’t say a word, but she refuses to assist her sister in her midnight escapades through the kids’ room window. Her sister, however, bribes Vyara with money for the roller skates Vyara has been craving for some time now, and Vyara relents. The result is hideous — Vyara’s sister is not only seduced, deflowered and dumped, but also gets a good beating from her father who accidentally intercepts her return at dawn.
Vyara’s mother, whose migraine has been the official excuse of her abrupt disappearance from their home, suddenly gets better. She returns on the day after the incident with the sister and is in a strangely upbeat mood.
Vyara goes out with her roller skates. She hides them in some shrubbery along the way, and descends the path to the concrete bridge, looking for the prostitute and ready to pay for her first French kiss — her key to the adult world, of which she desperately wants to begin making sense.
At the same time, Poli and her new friend, Didi, are in the abandoned building near the train crossing, also trying to decipher the art of French kissing by peer practice.
The second coroner’s report confirms the first — the cause of death is suicide by hanging. The citizens have one thing left to do — check out the mother. With heads cast down in sign of mourning, they go to offer the donations they have collected. They reach a small, poor house at the edge of town. Nobody opens the door, yet the citizens sense there is someone inside.
Poli gets into the kissing practice, showing erotic arousal for Didi, who, at that moment, rejects her crudely. Humiliated, Poli is also terrified her mother might find out about her homosexual leanings. She begs Didi to say nothing to no one, and although Did assures her she won’t, Poli can’t stop following Didi and begging her. Didi pauses at the train-crossing barrier. Poli looks out of her mind, and she can’t take her eyes off the approaching train. While Didi patiently waits for the train’s passing, Poli stands close behind her, her palms sweating in clenched fists.
The crowd that has gathered in front of Toshko’s house grows aggressive. At last, they throw the plastic donation box in the yard and leave — half-angry, had-content, for at least one of their versions seems to have found some proof. The box, thrown in the mud and bearing Toshko’s photo, takes us inside the house where a woman in a faded wool red dress can’t stop washing the same (already washed) dishes over and over again, mechanically, with an absent look on her face.
A truck driver resting at the parking lot of the motel close to the bridge has followed Vyara as she goes under the bridge. He shows up out of the blue, headed straight toward Vyara with odd urgency. The prostitute tries to stop him, which gives Vyara an advantage of a few seconds and she manages to escape.
The train passes and Didi keeps going. Poli is left standing pale and breathless, terrified by her impulse to kill.
Vyara has now encountered a mythical single-leyered monster, so desired by the citizens, but escaping him was the easiest of her tasks. She goes back home, where the storms have subdued, but the air is heavy with unresolved emotions. It’s dinnertime.
Last year, I was working on the screenplay for a short film about a 15-year old girl who hides her pregnancy from her abandoned father and younger sister, in the grip of her denial and need to protect them. On the backdrop of a family feast, she gives birth prematurely, in secret, in an outdoor loo, and disposes of the newborn with the unknowing help of her sister. The desert, in the meantime, is delicious! To me this was a film about the high price children sometimes pay in their effort to preserve their fragile families, held together thanks to secrecy and denial. But then a reader suggested I make my character a victim of an incest or mass rape to justify her confusion and actions. I laughed off the suggestion at first, but then more and more people united around it and supported it. This suggestion disturbed me in a way I could not define back then. I felt with all my being it was wrong, but could not say why and how at the moment. So it got me thinking: “Why do I think the suggestion is off? What do I know and how did I learn it?”
This is when I remembered the story of my classmate Toshko, who hung himself after getting an F on a test. The citizens of the small provincial town where I grew up reacted with mass psychosis, creating vivid stories about a serial killer and a monstrous mother, only so the tragic event of Toshko’s suicide could be digested. It seemed that the only way they could accept the child’s death was to attribute it to exotic villains coming from a place far removed form their lifestyle and mentality. Because, you know, kids can only get messed-up after incest, gang rape or get ting involved with people who are obviously serial killers. A kids’ riddle that I love immediately comes to mind: “What kills more people — sharks or coconuts?” My film is about the coconuts.
Some stories are a source of comfort. They often offer politically correct answers and ready-made solutions. But there are other, less glamorous type of stories that thrive on genuine emotion experience. My film — and I — would like to belong to the latter. This film will not make order out of chaos. There’ll be no villain punished or hero rewarded.
Instead my desire is to bring a piece of honesty into the world of early teenagers, whose characters are too often locked in heroic, virtuous or funny stereotypes.
There are two parallel lines in this film — that of Toshko and that of Vyara, both unfolding in the same city. On the one hand, there is us – adults, searching for a monster outside ourselves, while harming other carelessly and daily. We fall victims of our desire to blame, punish and feel superior. We can be blind to violence in our desire for comfort. On the other hand, there is Vyara – an almost-child with naive desires, a need for closeness, curiosity… who has to navigate conformism, betrayal, rejection, and violence on her own, walking the path from playfulness to abandonment to loneliness.
In both the narrative and the visual treatment of the story, I am searching for a sense of immediacy, authenticity, a quick, semi-chaotic shift of thought and emotion, a subjective and suggestive choice of what comes into focus and what remains off screen.
Producer: Vanya Rainova (Portokal)