The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner -- Film Review

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PALM SPRINGS -- This must be the most unwieldy movie title of the year: "The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner." And the film comes from Bulgaria, a country not yet known for a dazzling cinematic output. But happy surprises help to keep moviegoers hooked, and "World" turns out to be an unexpected charmer, one of the major crowd-pleasers at this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival -- where it was the runner-up for best narrative feature -- and a likely contender for a best foreign-language film Oscar nomination.

Director Stephan Komandarev adapted the film from a novel by Ilija Trojanow that was inspired by the author's real-life experiences. The engaging intergenerational tale has boxoffice appeal, but it needs an Oscar win or at least a nomination to secure a distributor.

"World" centers on Alexander (played by Blagovest Mutafchiev as a child and Carlo Ljubek as an adult), who was born in 1975 in Bulgaria. During the oppressive communist era, he and his parents immigrate to Germany. But when an automobile accident takes the parents' lives, Alexander's beloved grandfather, Bai Dan (Miki Manojlovic), comes to tend to him. The young man is suffering from amnesia as a result of the accident, and Bai Dan decides to try to restore his memories by taking him on a bicycle journey back to the town in Bulgaria where he was born.

Bai Dan, a backgammon champion and force of nature, is the kind of charismatic grandfather figure that movies often have relished. But the performance by Manojlovic (a veteran of several Emir Kusturica films) is so vigorous and unsentimental that the character never seems generic. Many tasty, unconventional details enrich the narrative; among the most powerful scenes are those in which Alexander and his parents are confined in an Italian refugee camp while they attempt to seek asylum in Germany. These beautifully detailed episodes give the universal trauma of immigration a precise, painfully human focus.

Manojlovic's commanding performance is matched by that of Hristo Mutafchiev as Alexander's conflicted father. Mutafchiev's real-life son is delightfully unself-conscious as the young Alexander, though the handsome Ljubek is more stilted in the adult role. The family scenes have enormous warmth, and the images are striking, but sharper editing would enhance the film. "World" has at least a couple of false endings.

Despite ragged patches, the film's wealth of humorous and harrowing moments make it one of the more original road movies you're likely to see.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival

Cast: Miki Manojlovic, Carlo Ljubek, Hristo Mutafchiev, Ana Papadopulu, Stefan Valdobrev, Blagovest Mutafchiev
Director: Stephan Komandarev
Screenwriters: Stephan Komandarev, Yuri Datchev, Dusan Milic, Ilija Trojanow
Based on the novel by: Ilija Trojanow
Producers: Stefan Kitanov, Karl Baumgartner, Thanassis Karathanos, Danijel Hocevar, Andras Muhi
Director of photography: Emil Hristow
Production designer: Anastas Yanakyev
Music: Stefan Valdobrev
Costume designers: Sonja Hesse, Marta Mironska
Editor: Nina Altaparmakova
No rating, 110 minutes
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