Bulgaria’s second most popular homegrown pic (trailing the decidedly inferior “Mission: London”) is an entertaining youth-oriented Romeo-and-Juliet saga that also critically addresses the country’s post-revolution changes. Viktor Chouchkov Jr.’s “Tilt” reps a strong debut for the tyro helmer, who’s assembled an appealing cast of twentysomethings in a spirited package whose occasional sags are easily forgivable, though the old-fashioned ending doesn’t fit with the more dramatically honest scenes preceding it. “Tilt” is enjoying a healthy fest life, but the real noteworthy statistic is the 150,000-plus local admissions.
Given the Bulgarian film industry’s perilous situation in recent months, this is precisely the kind of fillip it’s needed, proving that national mainstream pics can be well made and competitive in the marketplace. While offshore theatrical exposure is unlikely, “Tilt” offers a crucial commercial element that, together with the artier works of Kamen Kalev and Konstantin Bojanov, constitute a healthy cinema sector.
It’s 1989, during the last gasp of the communist era. A posse of skater dudes pirates German porn videos and sells them on the black market. Stash (Yavor Baharoff) falls for the standoffish Becky (Radina Kardzhilova), who’s already rejected B-Gum (Alexander Sano). She’s won over by Stash’s lack of pretension, but her father, Col. Katev (George Staykov), forbids the relationship and has the group of friends arrested and put on probation.
When the Berlin Wall comes down, Stash and friends Gogo (Ovanes Torosyan) and Angel (Ivaylo Dragiev) decide to head to Germany, with Becky in tow. However, B-Gum rats to her dad, and Becky’s hauled off the train while Stash is warned that if he ever sets foot in Bulgaria again, he’ll be a dead man.
The three guys end up in central Germany working as gravediggers; though these scenes drag, they provide a sense of the East European immigrant experience in the immediate post-Wall aftermath. When Stash realizes Becky’s never received any of the letters he’s sent, he convinces the others to accompany him back home, where they discover that Katev effortlessly transformed his status from communist colonel to Mafia kingpin. Once he’s certain Becky still loves him, Stash risks all to get her back.
Though the Romeo-and-Juliet theme is a bit well worn, and the intensity of their love feels too sudden, Chouchkov’s leads handily win viewers over with an engaging freshness. What really stands out here, however, is the pointed implication that yesterday’s abusive commie rulers are still in control as even more abusive gangsters who brazenly act above the law.
The pic’s first half maintains momentum with a satisfying pairing of action to music, sending out cool hip-hop vibes that drive the drama forward and appeal directly to young ticketbuyers. Lenser Rali Raltchev’s fluid camerawork, shot on the Red camera and handsomely transferred to 35mm, has a bigscreen presence ably assisted by nicely energetic editing that avoids musicvid-style pacing.