Though it sometimes seems Euro screens are saturated with tales of poor, exploited girls from Eastern Europe, Georgi Djulgerov’s “Lady Zee” has something extra going for it. Title character, an orphan who has a talent for sharp-shooting and is determined not to become a prostitute, is viewed not as a victim but a wild-at-heart individual capable of making amazing choices. Like last year’s “Mila From Mars,” which it surpasses, this Bulgarian entry is a sure-fire festival contender, with limited pickup possibility abroad.
Story is told by the gypsy boy Lecho (Pavel Paskalev), the obsessive witness of everything that transpires. He’s the lovelorn admirer of Zlatina (Anelia Garbov), who grew up with him in a center for abandoned kids. At 12, she avoids being gang-raped by offering herself to the orphanage director. From then on, she refuses to wear dresses or show emotion believing this de-feminization will allow her to escape prostitution.
Her talent for shooting, revealed at a fun-fair, brings her to the attention of Nayden Petkov (Ivan Barnev), a champion marksman who grew up in the same orphanage. After helping the girl meet her mother, a poor gypsy woman, in a touching but restrained scene, he takes her to Sofia to work in his private shooting gallery.
Lecho slavishly follows. Zlatina ignores him and falls for the gentle, married Nayden, who exploits her remarkable abilities, making scary bets with customers that she can outshoot them.
Still he hesitates to bed her, probably because she’s a minor. Their relationship is handled with the same deft sensitivity streaked with humor as Zlatina’s mistress-slave relationship with Lecho. Only when Lady Zee oversteps the limits of common sense does her life lose its precarious balance. Final scenes are harrowing, but a moving ending manages to rescue the characters’ frail human dignity.
Djulgerov, a veteran iconoclast of Bulgarian cinema, has a light, often playful touch with his largely non-pro cast. Young Garbov brings a sharp, sassy attitude to the main role, making the tragic edges easier to watch. As Lecho, Paskalev looks much like Pasolini favorite Ninetto Davoli and has a similar angelic function in this story, embodying Lady Zee’s wistful but cheerful would-be lover. Barnev, the only pro actor, is harder to grasp hold of as the contest marksman who has made good, yet who still seems cowed by his past.
Djulgerov and co-scripter Marin Damianov skilfully avoid sentimentality in depicting the tough, precocious lives of these unwanted kids marked by emotional scars. The film’s restraint pays off handsomely in the end, when moments of tenderness peek through their armor.
Mira Iskarova weaves gypsy and Greek melodies into a subtle score.