An Overdone Formula Lingers

Straight but gay meets older and smitten—and the tedium ensues

“Bulgarian Lovers” is a romantic drama from Spain about Daniel (Fernando Gullen Cuervo), a 40-something gay man who becomes hopelessly smitten with Kyril (Dritan Biba), a young Bulgarian with a bulge in his pants. Although Daniel maintains that he is a gentleman, and Kyril maintains that he is straight, the two men share some pretty sybaritic moments.

Unfortunately, while Daniel falls asleep with a smile on his face, audiences may just find themselves falling asleep.

This character study with intrigue—Kyril dabbles in an illegal activity—is not intriguing at all. In fact, it is surprisingly tedious. Daniel is a patsy who ignores his friends’ warnings about getting involved with Kyril, and Kyril is shameless in using sex to get what he wants. While the point of “Bulgarian Lovers” may be to show how (Daniel’s) love is blind, this does not excuse its tedium.

Daniel emerges as unsympathetic because he seems to want Kyril to take advantage of him. The reasons for this, however, are never clear, and his character is all the more frustrating because of it. Even as the relationship between the two men escalates, audiences have little reason to become involved in the outcome of their affair.

Co-written by actor Cuervo and director Eloy de la Iglesia, the film contains far too little drama even though the issues of love and trust, money and sex are weighed and measured ad nauseam. When Daniel is asked to hold on to Kyril’s bag, he thinks he is noble by not looking inside. This appears to be the film’s idea of character development.

While “Bulgarian Lovers” is enlivened by some playful visuals—such as melting screens and mirrors—the film is much better when de la Iglesia shoots a pair of nude bodies on a curtain that the characters walk through during the credits. There are some notable images here, but the emphasis on surfaces only emphasizes the superficiality of the story.

There is an interesting episode of magical realism, in which a Bulgarian boy leads Daniel down a railroad track, but this fantasy goes nowhere. Likewise, a recurring image of Daniel spinning in a chair fails to serve much of a purpose. If it is to show that Daniel is going round and round with Kyril, that is belaboring the obvious. It is clear that Daniel acts generously to his beloved because he fears losing him, but the root of this issue is unspoken. Has he been emotionally damaged in the past?

The film’s ending may explain Daniel’s behavior pattern, but it is not a satisfying payoff.

Maybe something is just lost in translation. The film tries to convey the view that Bulgarians fall prey to screwy logic, such as when they shake their heads “no,” but actually mean “yes.” If this is meant to be a charming irony, consider Kyril’s explanation that although he is straight, and faithful to his girlfriend, it is okay for him to fuck Daniel because it is not cheating when he is with another man.

Indeed, “Bulgarian Lovers” seems to have tremendous contempt for its queer characters, and the fact that Daniel’s best friend Gildo (Pepon Nieta) is a mincing, overweight queen is not helpful. These men are desperate for attention from hot young studs, and are willing to sacrifice their last shreds of dignity to get laid.

For these reasons, de la Iglesia’s film disappoints—even if it does reflect a truth about how some people live and love. Cuervo should have written himself a better role. Daniel is a doormat, even if one who gets to cuddle with Dritan Biba naked. Biba, who looks good without clothes, actually fares pretty well playing his character, perhaps because he gets to be crafty and viewers can delight in his misbehavior.

That’s the one pleasure to be found in “Bulgarian Lovers.”

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