The title Look Who’s Coming For Dinner would have been a far better title for this Bulgarian gem of a film, but apparently that title already belongs to a popular classic movie. Who knew? Anyway, I guess I can live with Shelter (AKA Podsion).
Director Dragomir Sholev may not yet be a household name, even amongst the most adamant of foreign cinema junkies, but if this film is any indication of where the Bulgarian film scene is heading than rest assured the name Drago will no longer by synonymous solely with the Russian fighting machine from Rocky IV.
The controlled restraint to which this 35-year-old filmmaker exhibits is nothing less than remarkable. In fact, he makes the films of the current Romanian New Wave movement, which are known for their long takes, lack of scores, and focuses on the mundane seem like a Michael “Transformers” Bay blockbuster. His appropriate use of various techniques such as long cuts, quick edits, POV perspectives, score and soundtrack cues, should be taught in film schools everywhere. You could call the class How to Hold the Viewers Interest While Tackling Life’s Mundanity 101. Here’s the real kicker though, for all the earnestness and seriousness that this filmmaking approach elicits, this is a comedy, albeit one of some dark and often weighty measures.
Aside from the few small walk-on roles of policemen, the casting ensemble primarily consists of just five actors. Five actors who all turn in strong performances, I might add.
There’s the water polo coach/exhaustive father with a penchant for track suits, who, whether he’s aware of it or not, is being taught by his son an important lesson on his controlling behavior. A personality trait that may bode well for him when it comes to winning trophies, even if they are for second place, but does little to help his home life.
There’s the mother of the family who does her best to restore normality to a situation that is anything but. After being worried sick that her son is dead or kidnapped she comes home from the police station, where a missing persons report was filled, only to find her son has returned and brought with him a noticeably older female resembling the chick from The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo movie (American or Swedish version, take your pick). Her response, much to the dismay of the father, is not to get upset with him. Instead she hugs him, starts dinner, and invite his new “friend” to eat with them.
Now as for their son, he’s at that highly impressionable adolescent age (somewhere between 13 and 15, if I had to guess) where he wants nothing to do with his parents. He’s rebelling mostly for the sake of rebelling, and not so much because he’s had it with the conformity and hypocrisy that is found within any established society. He’s probably just tired of being a boy and wants to become a man. You know, good old fashioned growing pains. Basically he’s acting out much the way most teenagers his age tend to do, much the way yours truly did. And what better way to act out and test boundaries than to leave the house for days without telling your parents where you’ve been only to eventually return with two “friends” who look and act like stereotypical punks? You know, mohawks, tattoos, leather jackets with punk band patches, snarling leers, middle fingers, and toting booze and cigarettes. It’s as if to say, “hey Ma, look. Not only do I have a blatant disregard for showing any signs of respect towards you, but look whose coming for dinner, Sid Vicious and Courtney Love.” Can you say awkward dinner discussion?
Along with this cast of clashing personalities are a handful of locations, with the family’s apartment being the primary one. This formula of having both a small diverse cast and few sets enables the script to truly shine within its claustrophobic surroundings and were it not for the strong cinematic elements taking place one might almost think they were watching a play.
Now, speaking of the script, along with director Drago’s writing credit both Melissa da Raaf and Razvan Radulescu (both Romanians) have writing credits as well. I’m not sure how much of an influence these two had on the finished project, but I have to believe that at least Radulescu’s role was a significant one in terms of that reminiscent tone this film has of the aforementioned Romanian New Wave movement. Radulescu’s credits prior to this film include The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, The Paper Will be Blue, Tuesday, After Christmas, and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. The Romanian New Wave can not exist in any conversation without the mentioning of these films. All this might bear the question, how much of what we’re looking at is authentic Bulgarian filmmaking and how much of it is borrowed from the current Romanian trend of filmmaking? I’ll leave that question for another day, and a another post, because the truth of the matter is that heavily Romanian influenced or not, Shelter is still an extraordinary piece of cinema and one of the best dark comedies I have ever seen!