There's a moment in Easy Rider when Peter Fonda looks at his watch and throws it away. Perhaps he had the right idea. No timepiece since Christopher Walken's uncomfortable Pulp Fiction monologue has caused as much trouble as the one at the centre of this pitch-black comedy. Following on from their tremendous 2014 dramedy The Lesson, the second film from Grozeva and Valchanova's "newspaper cuttings trilogy" confirms the Bulgarian directing duo among European cinema's most thrilling talents.
Honest railway linesman Tsanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov) discovers a pile of cash (worth around €85 or twice his regular monthly salary), and reports the find to the police. With the government under fire for corruption, the Ministry of Transport is keen to spin a good news story around this honest worker.
While juggling with hormone injections (and her own biological clock), the ministry's cynical PR chief, Julia Staikova (The Lesson's Margita Gosheva) stages a ceremony for the bedraggled Tsanko, during he which he's asked to remove the Russian "Slava" (or "Glory") watch that was given to him by his deceased father so that he might put on the digital one he is being presented with.
Tsanko may be a reclusive, stuttering countryman with only rabbits for company, but he wants his watch back. The ensuing fallout mines urban-rural, generational and class divisions. For Julia, the callous political class, and other Sofia contemporaries – including the investigative journalist (Milko Lazarov) who Tsanko calls in – the hard-working platelayer, like his watch, is an irrelevant relic of the Soviet era.
With a nod to gallows humour and topicality of films from neighbouring Romania, Grozeva and Valchanova's escalating tragicomedy is firmly rooted in reality (if Ken Loach or the Dardennes did farce, it might look like this). The narrative is as precise as the titular timepiece. Tsanko and Julia's stories are deftly and economically interwoven; every moment is a set-up or a pay-off. Tsanko's gradual descent into obsession and vengeance is entirely sympathetic; against all odds, Gosheva brings heart to her politicised city slicker. The clocks motif – both mechanical and biological ticking – is never laboured. Krum Rodriguez, the DP on Victoria, ensures the cinematography is as fluid and organic as the plotting.
Never mind the juggernaut franchises: the final instalment in this trilogy can’t come soon enough.