Friday, January 23, 2015

Bulgarian Rhapsody Recreates Lost World of Bulgarian Jewry

Unfortunately, you won't see the film Bulgarian Rhapsody vying for awards at the upcoming Oscars ceremony. The Bulgarian-Israeli co-production directed by Ivan Nichev was Bulgaria's contender in the Best Foreign Language Film category, but did not make the final cut of candidates. Yet, this World War II era melodramatic look at Bulgarian Jewry is definitely worth watching.

The year is 1943 and Bulgaria has sided with the Nazis. The Germans are pressing Bulgaria's rulers to deport the country's Jewish citizens to the camps in Poland. Against this backdrop, we meet Moni, a shy young Jewish boy living in Sofia. His best friend Giogio is much more worldly; he joins the country's youth guard while all the while trying to pick up girls.

Moni travels with his mother and sister to the coastal town of Kavala, an area of northern Greece under Bulgarian rule at the time. It is there that Moni meets Shelli, his flirtatious cousin. When Shelli comes to Sofia for the wedding of Moni's sister, she starts up with Giogio, forming a love triangle with a tragic ending.

Although Bulgaria's entire Jewish population was spared the horrors of the Holocaust, the same cannot be said for 11,343 Jews from Macedonia and Aegean Thrace who were sent to Poland.

Bulgarian Rhapsody is the final part in director Nichev’s trilogy about the saving of Bulgarian Jews. His previous films were After the End of the World (1999) and The Journey to Jerusalem (2003).

The young lovers in Bulgarian Rhapsody are played by the talented Kristiyan Makarov, Stefan Popov, and Anjela Nedyalkova. Israeli actors Moni Moshonov and Alex Ansky are among the cast members. Both Moshonov and Ansky have Bulgarian origins, and this was the first time they acted in a Bulgarian language film.

The film was very enjoyable, depicting a warm and vibrant community where Jews freely interacted with their gentile Bulgarian neighbors despite the growing racial tension around them. As reviewer Stephen Dalton says in The Hollywood Reporter, "the film recreates a sumptuous lost world of Bulgarian Jewish culture, its music and food, family gatherings and vibrant multi-cultural street life."

The theater at Jerusalem's Cinema City complex was full when we saw the film. Most of the audience seemed to fully follow the Bulgarian dialogue, while we made do reading the subtitles in Hebrew. When the film ended, the audience sang along with a familiar Balkan tune, while we were left with warm memories of our years in Sofia.

Related articles:

Israeli Actor Moni Moshonov Stars in Oscar-Bound Bulgarian Film

The Rescue of Bulgaria's Jews

Macedonia Jews During the Holocaust

1 comment:

  1. I'd love to be able to see this trilogy. A couple of years ago, I saw a musical event in Charleston, SC (USA), which I think was called Bulgarian Rhapsody (or something like it). It was about how Bulgaria was the only country invaded by Hitler that managed to save most of its Jewish population. An important figure was the Bulgarian bishop (metropolitan?) who stood before a train intended to deport a trainload of Bulgarian Jews. Also, the mistress of some Nazi commander was involved in saving many from transport to concentration camps in eastern Europe.