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Voice Over: When state security controls your life

Voice Over, directed by Svetoslav Ovcharov, takes us into socialist Bulgaria in the late 1970s.

Wael Eskandar, Tuesday 7 Dec 2010
Voice Over
A still from Bulgarian movie 'Voice Over' directed by Svetoslav Ovcharov
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Why do governments control people? I found that question resonating through my mind constantly as I watched “Voice Over”. The story is essentially about a man whose government and its ideology made him lose all he loved.

Set in the late 1970s, we follow a cameraman, Anton Krastev, through the trials and tribulations he faces when he is separated from his wife and child by the ‘Iron Curtain’.  Krastev is falsely reported as a traitor planning to flee by a director who was expelled from making a film. He is disgruntled when Krastev continued with the replacement director, having said that he would leave too. From then on the state security takes over his life with a state security officer watching him intently and denying  him any opportunity to see his wife and child who are abroad. As time goes on, his love for his wife and child diminishes and his desire to thrive in his country intensifies.

The film has an air of serenity about it, despite the events that take place. The soothing music, composed of piano and orchestral instruments, help give it a tranquil mood, together with bright and colourful cinematography. The performances of the actors are not outstanding but express the unusual normalcy by which the characters have accepted their fates.

Krastev remains cryptic despite a lot of screen time. His love for his job drives him away from his wife and towards self-actualisation. One of the more revealing scenes is when Krastev causes the death of the script-writer, who was also his friend, but oddly he is more disturbed by the fact that the film has been stopped than he is by her death.

Perhaps the closest resemblance in plot is found in the brilliant Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others), where a secret agent becomes absorbed into the lives of those he has been watching. The difference however is extreme, “Voice Over” does not come close to its depth of sentiment nor to capturing the story and characters.

That’s not to say “Voice Over” was not a good movie, it was but not satisfying enough. It is an intriguing trip through socialist Bulgaria where everyone is powerless in the face of state interference. Anton and his wife try everything possible to see one another, but the power of the state is stronger.  It is a losing battle from the start as Krastev is set up, and all communications monitored. The state security officer calmly fabricates evidence and denies Krastev his freedom in a sick paternal manner. Indeed in their encounter together, the officer is kind, helpful and fully convinced that he is watching over Krastev.

The unsettling control of state security over aspects of daily life, together with the surrender of the people to such practices is discomforting. However even today it reflects the practices of many governments. Part of the answer to my initial question as to why governments need to control is because an oppressive government will not find people to oppress if they are given the freedom to leave. So what do you do when the state denies you the freedom to be with those you love?

To paraphrase Mrs Krastev, we have to believe in miracles because a person who does not believe in miracles is not a realist.

The film was screened on 6 December in Nile City at 4 pm.

The film will be screened on 7 December in Galaxy Cinema at 7pm and on 8 December in Stars Cinema at 7pm

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