I had no idea what I was heading into when I sat down for my first movie during TIFF 08, With only a few exceptions all of the movies I had selected to see were starting to blend together. Prior to Zift starting the director, Javor Gardev talked about how the film is a film noir and after the movie during the Q&A he mentioned how rare genre film is in Bulgaria. He talked about how he hopes that Bulgaria will see a growth in genre cinema and I hope that he is right. While Zift suffers from a few of the problems that most small budget films have it fully succeeds on being an intriguing modern noir.
The title Zift refers to a black gummy substance that poor in Bulgaria chew. The closest substance in North America would be chewing tobacco, Moth of the movie is a convict who is let out of jail with only the clothes on his back a few dollars and the ball of Zift which he immediately takes a bite of even though it is years old. Immediately after his release he is picked up by two Bulgarian soldiers who take him to a basement where he is stripped nude. He is strapped to a table and then tortured by his old partner who wants to know the whereabouts of the diamond from the robbery for which he was incarcerated. Moth refuses to divulge the secret saying that he doesn’t know. The partner, now a Bulgarian official tells Moth that he has poisoned him and that only way he will get the antidote is to divulge the location. Eventually Moth escapes and we end up with a story the has all the classic noir trappings. Moth finds out he is indeed poisoned and he proceeds to track down his old girlfriend in order to find their son’s grave while wanting revenge on his ex partner.
Zift really could fall into being just a stereotypical film noir but Gardev manages to keep this from happening by introducing us to an interesting supporting cast and some very rousing scenes which use traditional music to great benefit. From Moth’s one eyed cell mate down to the pretzel eating soldier and finally the drunks at the local tavern we are presented with almost a surreal world for Moth’s story to take place in.
My only real complaint with Zift is that a couple of the special effects looked very unrealistic but as this was a fairly low budget film from a country without a large movie industry I am more than willing to overlook this. It is interesting to note that of the three or so times that CGI was in use there was one scene which completely fulled me and during the Q&A I even asked how they pulled off the shot only to find that it was simply done with CGI.
A good sign for any mystery or thriller is when the audience lets out a huge “oh” when climax and solution is presented. From where I was sitting I heard half the audience let out their “oh” when we discover if there really is a diamond. All in all I have to say that Zift is a strong entry into the noir genre and I am looking forward to seeing more from both Bulgaria and also Gardev himself.