Irene Brown | Radio Summerhall Arts
An after dark phone conversation where Alfredo (Karra Elejalde) is telling his daughter Luisa (Alexandra Jiménez) that he has a homeless Bulgarian man sleeping on his couch, opens Avelina Prat’s awarding winning 2022 film, Vasil/Wasyl.
Vasil (Ivan Barnev) is a champion chess, bridge and backgammon player, thanks to his Soviet style education in Bulgaria. He has arrived in Spain, with only some basic Spanish, for a better life. Like Alfredo, he has a daughter. Alfredo, a widower who has yet to unpack boxes of books after 10 years of living in his apartment, is also a chess player. He has agreed to have his house guest as a favour to his friend Maureen (Sue Flack), herself an immigrant but one of a different stripe from Vasil. On the contrary she is a woman, thanks to a string of wealthy husbands, who has ‘never done a day’s work in her life’ but has settled in Valencia. She introduces Vasil to her swanky bridge club where he becomes the darling of at least some of the rich ladies who play there, in particular Carmen (Susi Sánchez).
The two men inhabit their shared space with mutual wariness. Vasil is relaxed and amicable; polite and accepting but never over grateful. Alfredo is set in his ways and strict about punctuality and with the very male lack of curiosity of his generation, so Vasil’s life remains a mystery to him, much to the chagrin of Luisa. Yet the two rub along, their mutual love of the quiet warlike game that is chess acting as a tentative glue.
This sideways look at immigration gently focusses on one man’s experience as he moves from one European culture to another very different one but his attempted navigation of Social Services, with the help of the near indefatigable Maureen, looks like a universal one. While the quirky minutiae of daily human behaviour is at the heart of the film, attitudes to the outsider are quietly shown through Vasil’s treatment at the bridge club.
Yet Vasil is never phased. He walks the world in an accepting uncomplaining way, telling elaborate stories when he can and displaying an extraordinary array of talents beyond cerebral games. He has the qualities of an angel – barely touching people’s lives yet affecting them.
Ending as suddenly as it starts, this gently comic, nicely observed film is shot in soft light with a palette of creams, beiges and browns in the near empty streets of Valencia. Its kindly, naturalistic feel is augmented by a playful soundtrack that keeps the mood light. A real winning move from Avelina Prat.
Spanish with English subtitles
Running time 93 mins
October 1st (3.00pm (Glasgow Film Theatre)
October 9th (8.00pm Eden Court Inverness)
October 14th (6.00pm (French Institute Edinburgh)