By: Ross Bembenek
With a fairly ambiguous title (and my less than stellar knowledge of Bulgarian films), The Judgment was a film that had me puzzled on my way into the theater. I had essentially zero knowledge of what the film was or what it was about. However, after a bit of a slow start, I came to view The Judgment as an enjoyable film, with compelling character development and an ending that will leave viewers heartbroken.
Directed by Stephan Komandarev, The Judgment stars Assen Blatechki as Mityo, a milk truck driver who loses his job when the company he works for goes under, and Ovanes Torosian as his teenage son, Vasko, living in a poor area of Bulgaria near the Greek and Turkish borders. After being laid off from work, Mityo goes to work for a former border guard captain, known simply as “The Captain”, smuggling people across the border. Difficulties arise, however, when The Captain tries to gain too much of a hold on Mityo, and Vasko discovers new information about his father’s past.
The Judgment had more than its fair share of good qualities. The film is beautifully shot, with well-done point-of-view shots spread throughout. The development of the relationship between Mityo and Vasko is astounding. I loved seeing their relationship go through the ebbs and flows of their relationship as the movie progressed. Miki Manojlovic’s portrayal of The Captain is one of the movie’s greatest assets. Manojlovic nails every nuance and makes The Captain a truly despisable character. Overall, the entire cast does a fairly good job in both their acting and their chemistry between each other.
While an extremely well-done film, The Judgment is not without its shortcomings. For starters, the first half of the film was fairly slow, taking quite a while to establish itself and actually become an interesting story. The subtitles for the film (which is in Bulgarian), had a few rough translations which occasionally made the narrative tough to follow. Blatechki’s performance as Mityo was also not without its flaws. For much of the film, he’s fairly monotonous in both facial expression and vocal tone. He picks up the pace in the film’s second half and shows a more diverse range, but his lackluster performance early on and the first half’s slow nature have the potential to scare some viewers away from staying until the end (which is a mistake).
Overall, The Judgment, while not perfect, is a very well-made film that overcomes the shortcomings of its first half to provide one of the more compelling and heart-wrenching films I have watched recently. Strong cast performances and character development, paired with beautiful camera work, make this film one of Heartland Film Festival’s finest. While the film’s early faults definitely way down on the film’s overall effect, the second half of the film does enough to bring this film a respectable, and watch-worthy rating. Don’t let the fact that the film is in Bulgarian scare you away from seeing it, The Judgment is a film worthy of recognition in any language.