Eastern Plays appears to be about the relationship between two brothers – one afflicted by addiction to heroin and the other just starting out in the world of gangs and violence. Neo-nazism admixed with a drug-fueled culture of nihilism, the film aims to be both a rumination on alienation and a tribute to its dead lead actor Christo Christov. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite manage to pull off either.
When their activities collide one evening, both Itso (Christov) and Georgi (Ovanes Torosian) will be forced to take a fresh look at the life they’ve chosen and their next steps forward. Itso has just broken up with his girlfriend while Georgi has just completed the first act that will gain his acceptance into a gang. When Itso meets the daughter of Georgi’s victim Isil (Saadet Aksoy), he might just find new hope in his otherwise miserable life, while Georgi could be inspired by his elder brother to take up art.
Lead actor Christov died during the production of the film, and writer/director Kamen Kalev has dedicated the film to him. As Kalev’s friend who also inspired the story, Christov was perfect for the part playing himself. He seems to be completely in character at all times, and this effect may not have been possible were a professional actor to be playing the role instead.
Much of the film is shot with handheld cameras, and Eastern Plays thus suffers from the usual problems that afflict films made in this way. Additionally, that many of the scenes are shot at night in poorly lit locations makes for a difficult time seeing much of the action on screen. Again (and again, and again), although this appears to be the fad of the past decade for filmmakers to inject an element of ‘realism’ into your work, for many of your audience it is a deal-breaker.
There are difficulties with the plot as well, with the character of Isil most unlikely to make the decisions she does in real life. The performance of Aksoy as Isil is, however, excellent, and she almost manages to make her character work in spite of the problem of credulity. Torosian, meanwhile, is fairly one-dimensional as younger brother Georgi, with sullen apparently the only pose required for this performance.
By choosing to end the film in the way that he does, Kalev offers a glimmer of hope after nearly 89 minutes of abject bleakness and despair. This doesn’t quite work, as it is truly difficult to believe any good could come from the situations portrayed. Nonetheless, Kalev appears to see the potential for re-engagement and change in any lost soul, and for this he should be applauded.Rating: