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The Bulgarian candidate for the Oscar was announced as the country’s answer to “The Green Mile”, but these two films cannot fit in the same sentence. However, I expected much, much more from “In the Heart of the Machine”, a film set in a prison in Sofia in 1978, but something didn’t sit well with me. Maybe I was missing the realistic atmosphere that I usually expect in these kinds of movies from Eastern Europe, and this story about an accidental hostage crisis didn’t seem real to me. Perhaps the direction and the script were somewhat cheesy, the actors’ performances unconvincing, and the story somewhat moralizing. In terms of style, the director Martin Makarijev obviously decided to look more at Hollywood films, primarily the already mentioned “Green Mile” or even “The Shawshank Redemption”, but these are still films written by a grandmaster (Stephen King), directed by a man who knows his job very well. (Frank Darabont), and first-class Hollywood actors performed.

Unfortunately, that was not the case here, even though “In the Heart of the Machine” was very promising at the beginning. The main character and the narrator, whom everyone calls Bohemian, will get a chance to shorten his prison sentence. His task is to assemble a team to double the production in the prison factory. If they succeed in this, the prison warden has promised him freedom in six months, and Boehm’s choice of team will prove to be quite problematic. Together with the young gypsy Krasi, the old Teacher, he will look for the huge bush and the double murderer Ax and the insidious criminal Iglo. A crisis situation in the factory plant will arise when a pigeon gets stuck in one of the machines, and Sjekira will disobey the guard’s order to start the machine and kill the bird, instead taking the guards hostage.

A hostage crisis will arise, soon the factory will be surrounded by numerous police forces, and all attempts by Bohem and the rest of reasonable society will fail because Sjekira does not want to hear about anything until the pigeon is released. And there is some symbolism in that bird, which who knows how it ended up inside that heavy steel machine, and in time we will learn the fates of all those prisoners who were there. It is a film that is critical of the time of the communist dictatorship in Bulgaria and shows that there was often not much difference between those sentenced to prison terms and those who guarded and condemned them. Moreover, these others were often much worse, but the whole message was somehow lost to me in the general mediocre execution of perhaps a first-class idea.