TIFF 2014: The Lesson

Anything that can go wrong, WILL go wrong! An epigram for tragedy when it strikes on a seemingly constant basis, Murphy’s Law can be appropriately applied to many scenarios in life when things seem to never go right. Simply and subtly, the country of Bulgaria transcends the adage into a piece of fine cinema that is The Lesson.

Held together by an impressive lead Nade (Margita Gosheva), The Lesson is a sturdy little micro-budget film about the financial hardships of rural Bulgaria and the daily struggle undertaken by the population to stay safely nestled in their homes and off the streets.

The Lesson begins and ends in Nade’s classroom to be exact. Nade is a schoolteacher who begins her newest lesson trying to catch the culprit of an innocent child-theft between classmates; someone has stolen their classmate’s wallet. Nade is intent on finding the thief and teaching them a lesson, fearing that this behaviour will transcend into the culprit’s adult life and lead to more severe consequences. One of the first, if not only things we need to know about Nade is that she is an honest schoolteacher who has a deep-rooted moral and ethical compass.

Times are tough for Nade, her husband and young daughter. Barely able to afford bus fare, she arrives home one day to discover money that should have gone towards their debt has been sunk into repairs for a gearbox for a trailer her husband has repeatedly failed to sell. We learn later that this trailer doesn’t just take up a seemingly permanent space on their front lawn, but acts as a metaphorical barrier between the family and the rest of the world. Tasked to make good on their debts within three days or face seeing her families worldly possessions on the auction block, Nade sets aside her better judgement and gets into business with some shady individuals to try to pay the money back, hoping to return order to her household and family life in the process.

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When Nade’s seemingly ordinary life couldn’t seem to be getting any worse, directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov take the very square lens of their camera, set against the rigid frames of doorways, window panes and hallways and show the reshuffled chaos entering the life of a hard-working member of a small town. Shot exceptionally well despite its lack of funding, The Lesson is a reminder that films don’t need much money to look good. Adopting a quality over quantity approach, the film is a slow-burning, almost documentary-type account of the real-life tragedy that could easily plague anyone in a world of economic uncertainty.

The true star of the film is Nade, the lead played in a calm and collected manner by Margita Gosheva. Gosheva is the film’s heart, soul and patience who allows for audiences to engage for as long as possible, without ever wanting to doze off. Her interpretation of Nade is a very grungy and stripped one of a very overwhelmed character; who even in the face of homelessness and threats of blackmail never sidelines her ego and pride. We come to learn that Nade’s integrity is the real star of The Lesson. 

What’s most refreshing about the film is it’s ability to write a strong female character that doesn’t need to wear a cape or conquer otherworldly elements to be the glue that holds the film together. Although she never breaks down in tears, Gosheva’s subtle trembling body is enough for us to physically feel the emotional toll the situation is taking on her character. Gosheva has an uncanny ability to force audiences to empathize with her during moments of complete strain and grit, although finds solace and peace while in her classroom–highlighting the stark differences in her acting abilities quite well on a moments notice.

Thankfully, in a very obvious yet equally poignant last few frames, the film allows the world of Nade’s shaken life to come full circle in ways she never thought possible. The lesson at hand transforms Nade’s quest for clarity into a much greater journey of understanding, self-discovery and compassion that Nade will take with her for the rest of her life. It is these last delicate and quaint commentaries that allow The Lesson to be a film that we might not want to revisit anytime soon but a lecture in film-making we won’t soon forget.

Night Film Reviews: 6 Out of 10 Stars.

Is The Lesson a small time, foreign-indie film you might be interested in, or is this micro-budgeted piece from Bulgaria too small of a film for you at TIFF14? What are you excited to see at TIFF this year and is The Lesson something you might want to check out? And if you already have, what did you think? Leave all your TIFF thoughts, comments and ideas below! 

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