Nice performances and a sympathetic feel for the immediate post-WWII period can’t disguise the dramatic weaknesses in Stanimir Trifonov’s helming debut, “Burning Out.” Tale of an Italian doctor and his Bulgarian wife separated by a sadistic security officer in the nascent days of communism should deliver more in the way of an emotional payoff, but overuse of flashbacks diminishes the power of what’s supposed to be a passionate love story. Despite local awards, “Burning Out” won’t light many fires along the fest circuit.
Italian gynecologist Enrico (Stefan Valdobrev) marries wealthy Bulgarian Kalina (Paraskeva Djukelova) and together they decide to stay in Sofia. When the communists take over after the war, his connection with local Catholic priests places him under suspicion, while the security police see her work at the Italian em-bassy as a golden opportunity to plant a mole.
Spearheading the surveillance is notoriously brutal inspector Metodi (Deyan Donkov). His hankering after Kalina’s shapely gams fuels his decision to send Enrico to a prison camp after a personally satisfying tor-ture session.
When Kalina tries to discover where her husband is, Metodi rapes her, warning that she must pass secret files from the embassy to the police if she wants to see Enrico again. After several further rapes, she dis-covers she’s pregnant. Meanwhile, Enrico is learning how to survive in the prison camp, with the help of fellow-inmate Alex (Jossif Surchadjiev). Wily Commandant Kurtev (Nikolai Urumov) believes Alex is planning a breakout and coaxes Enrico with promises of reuniting him with Kalina if he’ll betray his friend.
All this is told via numerous flashbacks, as each sits on a train heading for Trieste, he from Italy and she from Bulgaria. These parallel journeys mirror the parallels within the plot itself, separating and coming together in surprising ways. Unfortunately, the shifts in time weaken the impact of the accumulating diet of deprivation. Yordan De Meo’s extra-lean screenplay also keeps conversation to a bare minimum, resulting in a loss of characterization.
Emil Hristov’s lensing, awarded a prize at Bulgaria’s national film fest in Varna, is attractive, though unexceptional. Low budget constraints result in an under populated feel, but period detail is nicely handled.