All the ironies and absurdities of the Balkans come into play in “Corridor #8,” a witty road trip proving you can’t get there from here. Produced and shot by the same team as Andrey Paounov’s award-winning docus, current pic, under Boris Despodov’s drolly inquisitive helm, views the region in a similar puckish manner as it asks why the neighboring nations of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania have no means of common transportation. Both delighting in the illogicality and pointedly commenting on the retarding effects of isolation, docu deserves a smooth ride along the fest circuit, with probable Euro cable pick-up.
In 1997 the European Union inaugurated Corridor #8, a project to link the Black Sea to the Adriatic by creating transportation channels between Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania, all neighboring countries that, logically, should already be connected. However, as any good Balkan resident or visitor knows, logic is the last quality expected. What Despodov reveals as he travels the stated path from the Bulgarian Bourgas to Albanian Durres are a people mistrustful of their neighbors and unimpressed by grand claims from local and European politicos.
A perfect example are the train tracks in the Bulgarian town of Gyueshevo, on the border with Macedonia. Less than 550 yards of rail lines need finishing to connect the village with its neighbor across the frontier, but the incomplete tunnel begun by the occupying Germans in 1941 is still being used to grow mushrooms and store cheese. Plenty of delegations come, with hyperbole and promises, but it remains impossible to get from Bulgaria to Macedonia by train.
Most interviewees are vaguely aware of the term Corridor #8, but few know anything concrete, and in economically depressed regions where nationalities are deeply suspect of each other, there’s little support on the ground. Besides distrust of their neighbors, few have faith in the European Union, all with an attitude whose origins go back nearly a century to the redrawing of the map following the two world wars. Add to that a disturbingly underdeveloped infrastructure and it’s little wonder skepticism and apathy are rampant.
In keeping with the absurdist tone, Despodov, smoothly making his docu feature debut, uses a generally light, tongue-in-cheek approach without ridiculing any of his subjects. Of course, the underlying message is deeply serious, and stories such as an Albanian family’s horrific isolation following a blood feud threat are reminders of the multilayered problems the region has to conquer before significant change can occur.
Unsurprisingly, the Corridor #8 project, with all its fanfare, was canceled in 2007. Docu doesn’t say where all the funds have gone in the last decade, though it’s not really necessary to spell it out.
Top-notch HD quality has no problems maintaining sharpness on the bigscreen, and Despodov’s endlessly curious eye, capturing the general picture and then cutting to well-chosen close-ups, increase the welcome sense of exploration. Perhaps the most fitting commentary on Corridor #8 comes at the end, when Albanian composer Argon Xhunga sings the official song he wrote for its inauguration. Natch, he’s forgotten most of the words.