Review: I See Red People
by Fabien Lemercier
- BERLIN 2018: Bojina Panayotova investigates the past of her family in communist Bulgaria. A very creative documentary, which is as serious as it is amusing
"What are you going to learn? And about whom? And afterwards? What price will you pay for the truth?" When embarking on an investigation into her own parents and grandparents lives in order to understand what Bulgaria used to be like, her native country which she left at the age of eight to live in France, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bojina Panayotova was entirely unaware of the very personal psychodrama that would be triggered by her absolutist quest for the truth and her equally strong desire to complete her first feature-length film, which is the astonishing, exciting and entertaining documentary I See Red People [+see also:
film profile], screened in the Panorama section at the 68th Berlin Film Festival.
Everything starts with a feeling of unease as the Bulgarians protest en masse, accusing their government of collaborating with the mafia and old communist networks. "Red rubbish, I can’t say it. My grandfather was a party member, my father was a party member, my mother was a party member." But what about Bojina's memories of her country? An idyllic childhood and photographs of parental exile in France. "20 years later, I’ve come back alone to film everything, search everything, archive everything, and to find out what happened".
Armed with mobile phones and Skype, Bojinaquickly realises the repressive and police dimension of communist Bulgaria, and thus the privileges enjoyed by her family (two grandfathers who could travel, one for the Ministry of Commerce, the other as a film critic). She begins by askingher extended family questions, with each of them evading the issue (“there is a post-communist paranoia to your approach,” says her father, who is a painter). Very quickly, an idea imposes itself, obsessively: "they worked for the secret police in one way or another." And as the State has released the archives of old security forces, she can actually find out. But her parents will need to make the request. Do they have a record? And if so, what does it contain? Do they know even know? An approach that will lead to a barrage of events, challenges to overcome, hesitations, confrontations, emotional upheavals and revelations against a backdrop of spying that will shed light on what Bulgaria was like then and what it’s like today.
With its deceptive appearance of a "home-made film," I See Red People may seem like a nice DIY project. But it is in fact very well put together, with editing that wonderfully mixes propaganda films of the communist era, old family photos and even footage from the CCTV camera in the secret police archive office. And the oft-used shot-reverse-shot "split screen" device perfectly mirrors the psychological state of the filmmaker, which is spread more thinly as reality gets closer to fantasy, and her investigation (which is often very funny) disturbs her relatives (and her relationships with them), who see ghosts from their past come back to life.
(Translated from French)
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