The well-worn scenario of four guys searching for love gets an invigorating jolt in Tonislav Hristov’s infectiously entertaining personal docu “Rules of Single Life.” Together with fellow expat friends in Helsinki, the recently divorced helmer humorously explores the gender divide. Breezily shot in a style that owes more to fiction than to documentary, this winning bachelor extravaganza can’t overcome a built-in objectification of the fairer sex, but fortunately likability is high, and lensing, editing and music are all pleasures. “Rules” bagged the Sofia fest’s audience award and will find similarly welcoming crowds on the fest circuit.
Smallscreen play is assured with a 56-minute version that will prove popular in producing countries Finland and Bulgaria. Stateside exposure is also a possibility, given the natural ease with which Hristov handles the English narration, chronicling his and his friends’ success and failure with women around the time he hits the big Three-O.
The group — three Bulgarians and one Macedonian — have a Balkan sensibility decidedly different from Finnish ways. Hristov and Zoran Atanasov were married to Finns and are both now divorced; Kiril Jovchev is in a 10-year relationship, but his Bulgarian g.f. isn’t interested in marriage; and Hristiyan Dimov is the eternal bachelor. The helmer’s birthday, plus a communal road trip to a friend’s wedding, prompts an examination of life, goals and the desire for companionship.
Parallels are being made with “Sex and the City,” though the docu’s level of sex talk is much tamer than that of the racy HBO series. Basically, these are a bunch of nice guys (with much more appealing personalities than anyone in a Judd Apatow comedy) looking for companionship in a country whose customs and manners aren’t their own. Dance classes, personal trainers and even a seminar on dressing for success are taken up and then apparently abandoned as the search for Ms. Right never quite gels, at least not in Finland.
There are times when it’s not clear if certain scenes have been staged; Hristov’s been making short docus for several years, so presumably he’s trained a camera on himself and his friends for some time. Still, it’s a surprise to see how willing they are to be this exposed emotionally, not just in uncomfortable discussions between the helmer and his ex-wife, but in a therapy session in which Atanasov and his soon-to-be ex lay bare their rift. These sequences seem to straddle the fiction-docu line, though it’s unlikely the subjects re-created their difficult moments for the camera.
Peter Flinckenberg’s lively lensing, assisted enormously by Joona Louhivuori’s fine editing, keeps the energy levels high without going overboard. Sound too is topnotch, and the memorable jazz score by Petar Dundakov is the perfect good-vibe accompaniment.