I love films that withdraw from the immediate reality and allow themselves the courage to edit, filter and mediate, so that they create a world with its own logic. A world that is shut off like a snow globe, yes, but that is just a bit more than the immediate one: more beautiful, more intelligent, more interesting, more responsible, more friendly, more humorous. A world with the strength to influence, just like the snow globe’s shut off space still somehow transforms the reality around itself.
While reality (and hence realistic art) is often perceived and conceived through the elementary, immediate and doomed concept that “everyone but me is crazy”, in the snow-globe world of screenwriter Ivan Markov and director Dimitar Kotzev there is an important philosophical twist: everyone is crazy and that’s alright. From beginning to end Monkey’s narrative is driven by a carefully cultivated appreciation of weirdness. Other people’s oddities are not despised or ignored, they are deliberately searched for. Not only that they are not on anyone’s way, but they are always unconditionally accepted, even more, they become the film’s capital, driving the story and the relationships between the characters. It doesn’t matter if you parkour through the school hallways, you steal a monkey from the zoo, you beatbox all the time, you are a man who goes to the opera cross-dressed, or you wait for aliens to come, there is a place for you in this reality.
Somewhere in the middle of the film the main character Maya says to her comatose father that the army choir guys singing to their sick conductor are “completely bananas”. And that’s neither tragic, nor cynical, but funny, precisely because there’s almost no one in Monkey who isn’t nuts in some way. The film is abundant with characters (in every sense of the word), whose building, revealing and developing is in itself a justification for storytelling and makes viewing a pleasure. Those are living characters (not only wagons on the story’s railway, like the case in so many other contemporary Bulgarian films) who possess their own universes, have the will to be stronger than the adjacent reality and provide reactions that are far from cliches and ready-made solutions. Just like the father, who is in coma, but there’s an absurd smile on his face, the main characters succeed in turning everything, be it sad or stupid, into a joke.
Maya herself is a teen with baggy clothes and peculiar tastes (for opera and different socks, to give two examples), willful, kind-hearted and a little silly: a full-blooded, loony, but logical character, comical, but now clown-like, built carefully and played brilliantly by Alexandra Kostova, a character that will stay with me and once in every while it will probably give me hints of what to do in certain situations. She stays fresh, natural and always accepting the whole time, during which she wanders around the world and struggles to understand her relationship with its strangeness and sadness: the sick father, the sorrowful mother, the half-sister in love, the imprisoned monkey, the paranoid relative, the mysterious teacher, the distant object of attraction…
Another interesting detail is the fantastic invisible and mute Santa Claus, who watches over Maya. He is the gun, there in almost every scene, that fires at the end. Surprisingly, Santa Claus does not give, but takes away, at least that’s how it seems at first glance. However, as the director says, “people grow through their losses”, so in the film’s universe even this enormous loss is depicted as a present, as something weird but right.
Like the characters, the film’s space is also carefully constructed, so that it contributes to the whole Monkey world. Through Dimitar Kotzev’s eyes, soundtracked by with fresh music, the city of Sofia seems pretty, strange and joyful: rich houses, clean schools, beautiful old buildings. Even the platterbaus, usually the perfect background for a gloomy story, seem enchanting with the huge graffiti on them.
Although sometimes shallow in its attitude towards the characters and the issues concerned, Monkey is a coherent, unpretentious, imaginative, flawlessly executed pop film, that took me to a different, weirder and brighter reality, immersed, entertained and touched me (mind you, not only me – the unknown girl sitting next to me in the cinema wiped her tears during the last scene, I saw her), and sent me back to the world wishing there was more Monkey in reality.