The village of Great Dervent sits precisely on the border between Bulgaria and Turkey. It has stood during the fall of the Ottoman Empire and has been subject to much change due to its strategic location. Now it sees new faces, those fleeing from Syria as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. Border patrols are not enough to stop everyone who comes through hoping to make it to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia and beyond. Ivan Fransunov, the postman of the village, is running for mayor and intends to welcome the refugees in order to bring life back to his home. With just forty-six eligible voters, every person counts. His competition includes the incumbent mayor Vesa (who in her mid-40s is considered by many to be far too young to govern) and a fiery frenemy who seeks the reinstatement of communism whilst wholeheartedly rejecting taking in immigrants and refugees.
As postman Ivan interacts with everyone in the village, and takes his job seriously. He advises people on their water bills, patches up Uncle Ivan who washed his recent head injury with brandy and listens quietly as people denounce his plan. His passion shows when speaking about reviving the village he clearly loves as well as the fates of those who are escaping war. He moves purposefully, but is often shown with his head quietly bowed as well as scolded by his mother for slurping his soup, we see many sides of Ivan.
Director Tonislov Hristov has elegantly captured the fears of the people of Great Dervent so similar to those expressed across Europe in The Good Postman. Living quite literally on the front line the village is caught between the desire to revive itself and the desire to stay ‘Bulgarian’. His empathy with the ongoing debate is amply evident and as such the often amusing interactions between the villagers never stoops to ridicule. Employing elegant long shots Hristov highlights the expansive Cotswold-like backdrops littered with crumbling red brick buildings, abandoned as the young people leave the village and no new ones are born. The only signs of new life are the apparently ubiquitous kittens and puppies that clamber around the scenes. Finger harps, an antiquated Roland keyboard and the vibrato of old women singing songs provide the soundtrack to a carefully conceived and beautifully executed observation of modern life in a traditional town.
The village is cut off from its graveyard. During the height of Communism a border fence divided the two and the villagers needed a passport to pay respects to their ancestors. Now women walk through the hole in the wire to remove weeds from the graves and exchange songs of sorrow. Ivan is seen tenderly taping photos from the past to the wall in his small house shows there was once life in Great Dervent, hundreds of people gathered in the square singing and dancing and laughing. The memories of the older residents are founded in reality and not wishful reminiscence for something that never happened. So much of this film is about grief. For a lost community, lost opportunities and a world very much lost but still remembered. An insightful combination of engaging with sadness punctuated with moments of pure joy makes for a snappy ninety minute journey with Ivan, a good man, a patient man and a postman.
The Good Postman came out on general release across the UK on 20th February 2017.