THE BEAST IS STILL ALIVE
Directed by Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova | Review by Miguel Angel Barroso GarcíaIt may sound like a phrase, but the truth is that today a lot of balance is forgotten in a movie, and much more if it is a documentary, it seems that being such an “open” genre, anything goes and everything is allowed. The balance is used to stay on the rope, to walk on the heights, to walk with firm foot, but with caution the thin red line that separates us from the standardized. Balance makes us unique to filmmakers, artists and all those who seek the truth of art through form, rather than truth regardless of form.
The Beast Is Still Alive is co-directed by Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova, carrying out a great work of documentation that is used in the narration to enrich the documentary plot that starts from an idea as a common thread: the daughter of a political dissident speaks From the afterlife with his daughter, who investigates about his life to try to understand the motivations that led his father to take a tragic turn to his life. This idea works perfectly and links from beginning to end with all the themes exposed by the filmmakers. And it is that we are above all a documentary in the richest sense of documentary expression, which is none other than imagination, rigor, creativity and respect for the viewer to which, finally, it is destined.
The filmmakers have decided to use the technique of animation, too, by means of very handmade drawings, full of intense red, a red that clearly symbolizes so much blood spilled in an unequal and cruel fight. These drawings that burst out of the narrative, are like tides of blood, red paint turned into the blood of that barbarism that today nobody wants to collect in their hands, and worst of all: no one wants to recognize.
We are in Bulgaria. The daughter of a political dissident seeks his father’s past in the secret archives of the fearsome Communist regime police. His father, first communist and later, disenchanted with that ideology falsely egalitarian and liberating of the town, decided to enlist in the anticommunist guerrilla and left for the mountains. From that day, the life of his family changed forever and became dramatic, terrible, traumatic, since his father was finally captured and imprisoned for life and they lived in social ostracism for belonging to the wrong side.
But what interests the directors of the film, is not this in itself, they go far beyond personal revanchismos and entrenched hatreds, they want to review history, analyze the past to focus on the present that their country lives since theoretically changed the communist regime to a parliamentary democracy. This is the fascinating part of the documentary, to see how things have not changed substantially, but have been recycled in an appearance of normality, have put on the mask of the “goodness” of the democratic father to hide the ferocious face of the father ” Communist, “but it turns out that those who ruled in communism are the same elite that governs democracy.
The Beast Is still Alive is the portrait of an entire lost generation and represents their disappointment once they have reached middle age and have understood that the legacy of their parents has not left them seeds of the future, but bullets without firing from the past. “Now the young people do not go out to fight”, says the father to his daughter in his intense dialogue that lasts the whole film. “Yes, but we went out to demonstrate,” she replies. “But you are very few, you are worms, you do not have the strength”. “We are building a society of citizens,” she says, proud of her convictions. “You have to start with something. We are showing people other ways of protest, other forms of struggle”.
At the time of the father the secret service considered those who opposed like “beasts”, the present secret service, considers the young demonstrators like “worms”.
The past teaches us, but it does not serve us. This seems to be one of the consequences that she draws from her research. Here is the key to the documentary, and the didactic value of its viewing: we must carefully analyze the history, know from both sides, not to leave anything hidden for fear of discovering annoying truths (as when the daughter discovers among the documents she reviews, that his father was a communist agent for a time), not to lose oneself in the grudges, the hatreds, the frustrations of a lost past that will never return. Only thus, taking into account all this and throwing it (once digested and analyzed with magnifying glass) as a ballast that manufactures the new future, the true future, not the cardboard in which the young Bulgarians live for decades. In this sense, it is brilliant how we speak of communist and socialist movements, as a way to recover essential things that have never been used in history.
We must not fear the truth, nor the colors, nor the names. One only has to fear, the greatest weapon of power to immobilize its citizens. Does something have to change in our spent world? Clear. But what? First we must show the causes of weariness, make clear the motives of hatred, the continuity of the elites, the obstruction of truth, which is more harmful than the struggle itself.
The Beast is Still Alive has lots of flat composition. There are never neglected or adorned images; everything has its motive. This is the reason the camera walks the streets, gets into the houses, and becomes friends with the men and women who are on their way. But he also confronts the enemies, those he most fiercely portrays, but he does so calmly, maturely, with the necessary distance to strike the consciousness of the viewer and reveal things to him, make him a participant in the situation. All sides are studied and only takes sides for freedom, for truth, for a life of dignity, without chains or ancestral fears.
‘The Beast Is Still Alive’ rises steadily in its narrative resources, and all the time right, because it never loses sight of the element to be taken into account. This is: balance, the consequences of film writing to achieve form and convey the message, which is: the film. This girl who dips in the forbidden past of her father, they remain on screen all the time as absolute protagonist of herself, but without overshadowing her intention to talk about her country through the political and the social. There is a lot of very significant archival material, and several interviews by the protagonist, who is always receptive to whoever speaks to him, never imposes his criteria, or interrupts whoever answers him.
In the final part of the documentary, there is even a sequence of aerial planes filmed with a drone. It is the first time that I find this technique well used in a film; It is the first time that I see that those strange planes that this drone device makes, instead of producing a deep irritation, are perfectly integrated into the narrative of the film.
The end of the film is excellent, totally consistent with everything exposed from the beginning, and means a colophon that was necessary to forcefully close the documentary. In the last sequence, we know of Belene, a field of work, which in reality was a field of extermination of the communist regime. They are tortured, interrogated until the death, buried bodies in mass graves; There people lost their status as people and became animals. But the current regime of parliamentary democracy, has not done anything about it, has ignored the issue and has silenced, without condemning anyone.
We celebrate an act of homage to the victims and at the end of the act, when everyone leaves through a frontal general plane, we discover the girl who, facing a large photograph of the field, where we can read Belene 1949-2015 , Looks ahead, defiant, but without anger. His gaze is a look of hope; A light on a new path that leads to a new struggle to change things.
Will Bulgaria, finally, have the right to color and finally be able to bury the black and white of their ancestors?
Miguel Ángel Barroso is a dedicated and published Film Historian. His credits include organizing numerous international film festivals and authoring several books including “The Hundred Best Films of Italian Cinema History” (2008) and “The Hundred Best Films of the 20th Century” (2009). Miguel organized the videoconference, “The Unforgettable Anna Magnani”, in tribute to the actress Anna Magnani on the centenary of his birth, held at the Italian Cultural Instituto Madrid.