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One of the most memorable scenes in this film unfolds in the street. Danny, a boss in a provincial town, suited up and overexcited by alcohol, self-love or another drug, suddenly decides to show off his taekwondo skills, sees a random cyclist and knocks him down with a "flying kick". Pleased with himself, he laughs that he tore his pants when jumping, and even shouts "Excuse me" at the knocked down man. Nothing personal, sort of. The scene is very effective because it concentrates the entire monstrosity of a situation far greater than the one shown. Here we have a man who views others as play objects and is used to complete impunity. Here we see both his sense of superiority and the magnitude of the failure of a society in which there is not even a symbolic sanction for such arbitrariness. The good thing about this ugliness is that it manages to make its main point in an extremely spare and vivid way. The bad thing is that throughout the rest of the film it is told and shown directly and in detail, over and over again.

The idea for the story has potential: an English TV crew (a reporter, a cameraman and a sound engineer) has come to Bulgaria to cover a story about money laundering and relies on getting information through Danny, a businessman and a municipal councillor of the type we have been living with since the 1990s - a ridiculous imitation.Danny, however, as soon as he sees the camera, seizes the project and drags the English to what in his inflamed imagination will be called Danny. Legend. God. (that's right, with dots after every word) and will show him as a successful Balkan. That is to say, one who's got the upper hand on his masrafa, has God by the raincoat, has a man and no scruples... or scrupulously hides them, lest he be thought soft. In the version of success in life that has taken root in these latitudes, the one with the looting, the turnip-grubbing and the high wall around the new thug-baroque, conscience is a sign of weakness.  We, the viewers, see it all through the footage shot by the foreigners, presented chronologically and narratively - almost like found footage.


By design, the entire story rests on one character and its performer, but it is around this radical decision that two significant stumbling blocks arise in the perception of the film. Danny is in frame most of the time and doesn't stop talking. Dimo Alexiev, who plays him, is slender, elegant, and bright, with the presence of a Northern ballet dancer, and although a talented actor like him should be able to perform everything "from baby to grandmother," his skin of a Southern charlatan stands out unnaturally. Figuratively speaking - in the painfully familiar episodes with a fat guy seen from behind, turning the steering wheel of a jeep and bragging to himself, Dimo Alexiev's neck stands unconvincingly graceful. Which, added to his character's strange education, shakes the credibility required by the viewer. (Yes, if Danny were a secretive urban cynic with a deliberately truncated vocabulary and second and third plan personalities, Dimo Alexiev might be frighteningly spot-on, but that's not the type, and if you change the type, you change the drama.)


Danny considers himself part of the elite, has changed three parties in ten years, pours with "Do you know who I am?" and flaunts his possessions: a car, a factory, a club, a hotel, a big house, people (a wife, a lawyer, a priest, a clerk with a portrait of Georgi Dimitrov behind his back). In the first half hour he pulls out his dick three times, as a local macho should, makes dumb sexual jokes, shows contempt for women and doesn't take no for an answer. He's also the Godfather: if nothing else, at least to a pudgy sixth-grader with a permanently chewing mouth, whom he teaches how to assert himself. In the background, chalga music plays. Everything so far is typical to the point of monotony and comes in a package the contents of which we know without opening it. What is atypical, however, does not deepen the personality thus described, but rather sabotages it. Danny speaks the adequate and varied English of a man of the world, hardly compatible with his behavior as a hyperactive teenager and his position as a small predator in a provincial town. Words like to orchestrate, hipster entertainment, to score zero social justice points, or a hidden quote like squeal like a pig are from realms and cultural accumulations for which one does not become a thug. On horizons beyond our native congrachulation and samtaims lun.

There's another basic bug in Danny, and that's the dearth of supporting characters for the protagonist to interact with and to evolve. No one - from the wife to the reporter (implausibly unprepared and servile, by the way) - offers any tangible resistance, and there are no equivalent plot lines. Yes, it's important to stress that Danny is not dialogic. Yes, at one point, the reporter gets fed up and leaves. But overall, reaction from others is close to zero, so the contrast of the narrative is lost. Danny is a walking inventory of Bulgarian maladies, and without  personalities to clash or rub shoulders with, he never quite becomes a personality. Where is his quiet place (figuratively or literally)? What and who scares him? Who does he love and who loves him? Where is he headed and what drives him? Where did he come from? Rules have long since been broken, wills have been crossed, the world is a place of bullies, opportunists and hirelings, the stage is as empty as the movie theater, and it's unclear how this feverish impostor's entire one-man show can somehow convince or hold the attention of outsiders. English documentarians, for example.


Which is another stumbling block to the credibility of the story. What kind of TV station would send a team on a multi-week field trip with no prospect of getting anything more than the narcissistic ramblings of an Eastern European petty feudal lord? What kind of people in the free world would let someone fool them indiscriminately without drawing the line? And what, after all, is Danny. Legend. God. - edited or raw footage from the botched report? In Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog assembles pieces of real footage into an almost artistic narrative; in The Blair Witch Project, we assume we're watching amateur footage as it was found; in Vampires, we watch "real" Belgian vampires telling us, in typical TV format, about their bits... Anything goes. All three films successfully fit within the framework they set for themselves, and we trust them because they follow their rules. Danny, however, seems to be cheating on its own principle. From the communication foul-ups, sound breakdowns, and similar details, we get the impression that the unedited version, the whole behind-the-scenes thing, is before us. But why then does a soundtrack appear here and there? And how come the beginning and the end are repeated (the inquiry to bystanders who say the expected "I don't care, it's none of my business" and "well, he must be like the Mafia so he can fight the Mafia")?

If Danny was meant to be a mockumentary, it is perhaps most noticeably short on humor. There are a few effective catchphrases that in other contexts would evoke hilarity -  lot of thought has gone into the script and this is evident - but here they fail to "jingle". The only attempt at fun that doesn't sink into Danny's noisy monologue, however, could easily be cut out without leaving a trace - a TV show in which a "lifestyle journalist" interviews "influencer" Maria Magdalena Jena. While the sketch itself aspires to Almodóvar but hits more of a cheap comedy show, it's fresh and surprising to feature Suzanita, the child of pop-folk star Orhan Murad, who also sings in clubs but in the style of Cardi B's oversexualised and aggressive rap.  Well, this 16-something girl, with her artificially pumped up lips and the full complement of attendant attributes, is natural and self-ironic on screen, and for a second manages to touch both a ridiculous and a tragic chord. (It seems to me that at the intersection of popular music and the normalized criminality emblematic of our so-called "transition", there are deposits of authentic drama whose time to be unearthed has now come . I can think of two strong examples in this vein: the short film Shhh... Sing to Me! and the verbatim performance Pop Folk Chronicles: White Birds and Bullets).


Writer, director and producer of Danny. Legend. God. is London-based Yavor Petkov, who mentions Man Bites Dog as one of his inspirations. Belgian Remy Belvaux's film hasn't stopped gaining fans since it premiered at Cannes in 1992, and in many ways it's a lot like "Danny". It's a faux-documentary low-budget debut in which a three-man film crew makes a portrait of a narcissistic bully. The big difference is that Man Bites Dog abruptly and unreservedly cuts to reality in its first minutes, only to present it further hyperbolized to the point of grotesque, at such a distance from the viewers' reality that the cruelty seems absurd and thus funny right up until the sobering final third, where we pay for the laughs with goofiness. One of Danny's significant problems in this sense is that the evil it encapsulates is possible, actual and untransformed. Mediocre, unadulterated evil.

But it is important to note the following. Danny. Legend. God. is an impressive effort at capturing a messy post-socialist matter that frantically tries to imitate or appropriate things it fails to be and have (normalcy, intelligence, elegance, maturity, value). It is likely to be more interesting to the part of the world that is not mired in it -a first confirmation was the Dani Award for Best English Language Film at the Cardiff Film Festival in November (and the competent work of cinematographer Rumen Vassilev has already been honoured at the Golden Rose in Varna). That Petkov has an eye and heart for cinema was evident from the short The Green Man, and from Dani. Legend. God. one can assume that bigger and well-crafted stories are on their way.

This publication is supported by Bulgarian National Culture Fund