An existential horror film heavy on atmosphere and metaphor, January is a monochromic, slow-burn, Bulgarian ghostly drama that has Beckettian overtones. Based on a 1974 play by Yordan Radichkov, documentary maker Audrey Paounov translates the piece into an intriguing cinematic experiment.
Set in a snowbound Bulgarian January, the film has a remote snowy cottage peopled by The Guard – played by Samuel Finz – and an old man, played by Iossif Surchadziev. They have a rakia-drinking crow for company, and the cottage owner, an unseen Petar Motorov, has disappeared into the woods on a sleigh. The Twins (Zaharvy Baharov and Svetoslav Stoyanov) arrive stranded with a beached snowplough and want to use the cottage’s tractor. They are joined by a tattooed Leonid Yovchev as The Priest; all wait for the Godot-like Motorov as events around them become stranger.
The ‘tenetz’ or ghosts of the forest may be abroad, the plough keeps returning with a frozen wolf on it, and matters generally become odder and odder. The film uses this quintet of characters to explore post-communist Bulgaria: nothing truly is explicit throughout, and a heavy atmosphere of menace and dread pervades, helped by an eerie soundtrack.
Although its single-location stage roots are evident, the film version of January is a diverting, strange but intriguing examination of death and political chaos which will reward those patient enough to immerse themselves. Well shot by Vasko Viana, everything from a nutcracker to the static faces of the cast exuding shadowy mystery, this film will not be for everyone, but its haunting, mesmeric tone cannot be denied.
Dir: Audrey Paounov (12, 110 mins)
January is in cinemas and on demand from Fri 27 Jan
words KEIRON SELF
Want more film?
Get reviews, previews, interviews, features and more, from Wales and beyond.