Gripping Bulgarian drama featuring a stand-out performance from Margita Gosheva
The moral high ground is a place to claim at your peril in The Lesson (Urok), a quietly compelling Bulgarian drama that views the age of austerity through the tragic dilemmas of one victim. There are clear echoes of the Dardenne brothers' Two Days, One Night in this impressive fiction debut from co-directors and writers Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov.
Margita Gosheva stars as schoolteacher Nadezhda, a woman of principle who holds everyone to high standards of honesty. When money is reported stolen, she vows to find the pupil who is guilty of the theft and teach them a lesson they will never forget. She sees a world of right and wrong, crime and punishment.
Over the course of the film, her beliefs are tested to the limit as she faces an increasingly desperate financial situation. Her feckless husband Mladen (Ivan Barnev) has not been keeping up with the payments on their bank loans and now only three days remain before their home is repossessed. Her frantic efforts to raise money from her estranged father and some decidedly unsavoury loan sharks shed light on her fraught personal relationships and on a Bulgaria that seems rife with corruption and the exploitation of the poor.
The race against time provides the film with an innate sense of momentum as Nadezhda starts to run out of options and the final deadline looms. The stakes are constantly raised against her and because she has such a righteous, unyielding personality her fall from grace is all the more poignant.
Gosheva has won several, well-deserved European awards for her performance. She never plays to our sympathies but creates a Nadezhda who tries to remain true to herself despite everything that happens. Her refusal to surrender or compromise makes The Lesson all the more gripping.
Limited release from Fri 4 Dec.