Written by: Henry Tucker
Director: Javor Gadev
Screenplay: Vladislav Todorov
Starring: Zachary Bahrov, Tanya Ilieva, Vladimir Penev, Mihail Mutafov
Producer: Georgi Dimitrov, Ilian Djevelekov, Mateve Konstantinov
Running Time: 92 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
When it comes to Bulgaria’s best DVD exports, Zift is one of the few that are perhaps better than the Bulgarian football team’s 1994 World Cup highlights.
Zift is a love story mixed with murder and betrayal, so nothing new there. The main protagonists are Moth, Slug and Mantis. No this doesn’t mean its the eastern block version of A Bug’s Life, these are just their nicknames.
The film starts with Lev (Moth) in prison for murder, but he is soon released after showing pro-communist leanings to the prison’s screws, the film is in black and white and set some time in 1960s.
However, once Moth is out of the clink he is soon nabbed by the man who helped get him locked up in the first place as he thinks that Moth knows where a black diamond is. It was this jewel that Moth was supposed to steal, the robbery went wrong and the diamond’s owner was killed and Moth took the blame.
The reason he did this was for his love, what a surprise. Moth fell in love with the girl Ada at school and gave her a pet praying mantis, as you do, because she liked it. Lev got a moth tattoo, Ada a mantis one – hence the names.
The name Zift apparently comes from an Arabic word meaning asphalt that was once a popular chewing-gum like substance in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. It is also a slang word for shit. The significance of this in the film is that when Moth is released from prison he has a big lump of this stuff in his possessions.
As a big fan of non-Hollywood films, Zift is pleasantly different from your usual tame crime-rom. That said though it doesn’t reach the heights of films from other European directors such as Almodovar or any recent French offerings. The script isn’t the greatest and plot is more than a little cliched. The reason I think it was shot in black and white is probably more of a budget decision than a style one. It is much easier to make the film fit the period by shooting it in black and white rather than make sure all the props, costumes and locations look authentic. And to be honest even then it isn’t that convincing and I did wonder why director Javor Gadev set it when he did and not in the present day – it would have made as much sense.
Although Zift is a long way from being a trial to watch, there really aren’t that many reasons to recommend it. Unfortunately there are just too many things that don’t really make sense, one being Moth’s attachment to a previous cell mate’s glass eye. At one point he drops it, it bounces (funny seeing as it’s supposed to be glass) and he goes to great lengths to get it back. He later buries it in a tray of sand that holds candles in a church with no explanation as to why.
Zift is an OK diversion from the dross that passes for TV these days, but even so I did find myself clock watching a fair bit and really wasn’t that gripped or involved with the main characters. What is also a little surprising is that it’s an 18. Yes there are elements of torture, but you see worse in Casino Royale when Daniel Craig’s spuds are getting a good working over.
I won’t be at all surprised though if the actress who plays Mantis, Tanya Ilieva, finds her way to Hollywood as she certainly has the looks Hollywood likes.
Review by Henry Tucker