Thankful for World Cinema: The Color of the Chameleon (2012)


For an introduction to the concept of Thankful for World Cinema please go here.

The Color of the Chameleon (2012)

At the crossroads of science and alchemy is cinema, amongst other things. What I mean by that is that as much as we may try to define rules there are always exceptions and things that challenge our notions. The particular reason this comes to mind when discussing The Color of the Chameleon is because of the way, much like the animal its title is inspired by, changes its complexion at varied points in the narrative.

The film begins with a scene establishing some of the basics wherein a Mother (Svetlana Yancheva) is talking to a headmaster concerned about her son Batko (played in his younger incarnation by Dennis Andreev) specifically about his obsession with onanism. This is a theme that ties much of the seemingly disconnected pastiche together, as foreshadowing and inference indicate this habit may have had something to do with his being unfit for military service. Following that we meet with him in college and see him recruited to the secret police by an agent (Roussy Chanev) and the thrust of the film, such as it is, is introduced.

About midway through is when the film makes an interesting structural and tonal change. There comes a turning point wherein you see a now-mature Batko (Ruscen Vidinliev) in a series of interrogations that are very funny but don’t seemingly connect. The closest kin to such a sequence I thought of is a “Bad audition montage.” However, this is more extended, and while you do have to wait for it, there is later follow-through and narrative impact from this sequence.

The structural oddities are always introduced with flair and style such that even if you’re not quite on board with the new direction the film has taken you will be entertained along the way. However, I would suggest your bearing with it and keeping everything in mind as seemingly small elements influence later jokes and stylistic choices. There is a visual transformation late in the tale that’s making commentary more so than any dialogue in the film. However, when thought of in conjunction with lines previously uttered underscores the absurdist, farcical critiques of communism, secret police, transition to democracy and politics in general. Criticisms that while being very specific to the Bulgarian experience can also be ascribed and understood by those in other nations.

The Color of the Chameleon 2

When Batko’s seemingly convoluted plan comes to fruition the film, despite its jumps in style and time, which are brave and commended; really does click in the end. Anything seemingly out of place is well incorporated including the aforementioned late-film stylistic departure. Aside from visuals there are also genre conventions that are familiar to many viewers borrowed and incorporated here in unique and quirky ways that add to the beauteous, hilarious chaos.

Perhaps the best part of this film is that it doesn’t just come up with a way of making some very scary mechanisms like totalitarian communism and secret police bodies farcically inept, but also uses the personality of the protagonist to help subvert these entities which is humorously adding salt to the wound. In this regard a lot of the first half of the story in essence functions like a heist film in hindsight as the mechanics and tactics of surveillance are learned and we later on see them implemented in a twisted way.

There needs to be grounding and a center to a film attempting things as zany such as these. The interviewees and peripheral characters aside from delivering laughs also lend an air of believability to the tale based on how they react to given situations. However, the tone of the film with regards to the actors’ interpretation all starts with the lead. Ruscen Vindiliev may have differing overtones but his motivations and convictions always remain the same. For as manic as in his need for acceptance, individuation and revenge as he becomes there is always a quite, intense diligence of seeking to accomplish the task before him and find some cursory acceptance and peace. Even when playing all ends to the middle there is a cool veneer that helps make the outlandish plausible and he helps communicate a clarity of motivations that makes the tones make sense, and make him an identifiable lead even if his methods may get Machiavellian.

Out of all the films I’ve viewed this month to fit in this theme, quite a few have been different than what the average viewer may be used to. However, the biggest break from the humdrum I found was The Color of the Chameleon. It’s a film you should be on the look out for and view if you should have the chance.


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