This might be the comeback of the decade. In her first film role in almost 30 years, Bulgarian actress Eli Skorcheva – who exiled herself from cinema, changed careers and worked odd jobs, including as a housekeeper – stars in Blaga’s lessonswhich won her the best actress award this year Karlovy Vary Film Festival and is Bulgaria’s submission to the 2024 International Film Oscars.
Stephan Komandarev’s film also won the Crystal Globe Grand Prize at Karlovy Vary and has just added the Grand Jury Prize at the Rome Film Festival.
Much like Skorcheva’s first accidental foray into film in the late 1970s with a starring role that made her a star, her successful return was not planned; it came thanks to his dog. (We’ll talk more about that later.) His triumph with Blaga’s lessons It may also have been foretold by Baba Vanga, the famous blind Bulgarian mystic who is credited with predicting 9/11 and other major world events.
Ever since she outgrew her childhood fascinations with careers as a Navy pilot, astrophysicist or archaeologist, Eli (pronounced Eh-lee) knew she wanted to become an actress. Her builder father, however, had other ideas and quietly withdrew her documents from the university preparatory high school she had applied to in her hometown of Plovdiv. Instead, she had to enroll in a vocational high school specializing in building and construction.
She reluctantly went and discovered a surprising talent and love for mathematics. But this detour did not deter her from pursuing her dream career, and after graduating, she applied to the Bulgarian National Academy of Theater and Cinema Arts in Sofia, at a time when some 1,300 girls competed for a single place.
On her first day visiting the Academy, she was scouted for a small role in a television series that was filming the next day. She only agreed to do so after production promised her transportation so she could return in time for her Academy audition.
However, filming was delayed and she didn’t have a car. By the time she finally arrived at the Academy, her group had been called.
Discouraged, Skorcheva followed the doorman’s advice and asked him to go to the nearest clinic, fake an illness and get a certificate from a doctor. She passed the acting test and got back on track with the Academy entrance exams, plowing through them despite having no formal training – focusing on acting and forgoing a career on the screen.
“The chaos, no one knows exactly what they’re doing, I didn’t like it at all and it made me swear to never get involved in film again,” she said of of this first experience on a film set.
Her disdain for films was so strong that she refused to submit her photo to the National Film Casting Database, as required of all Academy students.
Despite her best efforts to “hide” during her sophomore year, Skorcheva was cast in the lead role in Adaptation, a three-part film for television, after an exhaustive search involving all young actresses in the database and beyond proved fruitless. She turned down the audition for a month until she got the script and loved it, a rule she stuck to throughout her career.
Skorcheva got the lead role in the film, which was a big success, making her an overnight star and earning her the first of many national acting awards. A series of leading film and theater roles followed.
While her acting career was flourishing in the 1980s, Skorcheva took the risk to support causes opposing the communist regime, including a hunger strike in solidarity with Czech dissident (and future president) Václav Havel and a petition against the government’s campaign to impose name changes on citizens. Bulgarian Turks.
She also added her face and voice to the democracy movement after the fall of communism in 1989, then withdrew once opposition parties reached Parliament and the government, saying she did not want to get involved in politics.
At the beginning of the 1990s, in a context of economic difficulties BulgariaWith the bumpy democratic transition, government financial support for the film industry dried up.
“It was a devastating blow for Bulgarian art. For 8-10 years there was no cinema, it was dead,” Skorcheva said.
Without films or plays widely supported by rising oligarchs and organized crime bosses, she decided to leave the industry.
“Everything that was offered to me was a huge compromise,” Skorcheva said of her motivations. “I didn’t want to slowly fade away and be humiliated; I wanted to leave with a work that I am not ashamed of while I am still at the peak of my career.
Skorcheva worked for an insurance company and earned a degree in management and marketing for the insurance industry. She also worked in a construction company, putting her high school education to good use.
“I have never been afraid of any type of work; I am ready to try anything if necessary,” said Skorcheva. “And it has always been very important for me to do my best in everything I do because there is no such thing as embarrassing work, just a way embarrassing to do so.”
After eight years of caring for her sick parents (both suffering from dementia), following their death, she found herself “in a deep hole, financial, physical, emotional, psychological – but also social”. She accepted a position supervising the maintenance staff at a company where she regularly cleaned alongside her team.
Skorcheva was still cleaning when she filmed Blaga’s lessons. Feeling forgotten by the new generation of Bulgarian filmmakers, she had practically stopped considering a return to professional cinema.
However, “I hadn’t stopped playing, I did it in everyday life, including communicating with my dog,” she says, smiling. “I speak on his behalf with relatives and others.”
In addition to helping her keep her acting spark alive, Skorcheva’s rescue dog, a French bulldog named Jerry, also helped her land her comeback film. While taking him to a nearby dog park for his daily walk, Skorcheva was approached by another dog owner who recognized the former movie star.
He turned out to be a seasoned casting director who, in the midst of their regular discussions about the state of the Bulgarian film and theater sector while walking their dogs, asked Skorcheva to join his agency’s roster of actors. She has accepted. The first film he approached her for was Komandarev’s. Blaga’s lessons.
As she always does, Skorcheva first asked to read the script. She devoured it and signed for the role the same day.
In Blaga’s lessonsa dark social-realist drama that Deadline’s opinion “It packs a punch not seen since Lars von Trier or Michael Haneke in their provocative heyday,” Skorcheva plays Blaga, a recently widowed retired teacher who falls victim to phone scams. Having received no help from the authorities, her bank or her ex-son after losing all her money, Blaga takes matters into her own hands and turns the tables on the criminals who cheated her in a story that “takes a surprisingly shocking twist at its heartbreaking climax. » (You can watch a trailer below.)
For a cheerful and positive person like Skorcheva, playing Blaga was not easy, she admitted. In doing so, she left her vanity at the door, wearing nothing but moisturizer on screen for the entire film.
However, getting in front of the camera after 30 years away wasn’t difficult.
“The experience I gained during this period made me better,” Skorcheva said. “It was easier to work and much more enjoyable.”
She hopes people will go see Blaga’s lessons. (A list of remaining screenings in Los Angeles is available below).
“It’s interesting to watch because it’s a thriller, social but thriller,” she said. “There is also a very dark sense of humor that I really like. And I think the film is very relevant because every adult, without exception, feels guilty towards an older person around them for something they did or didn’t do, for something they said or failed to say when he was supposed to.
Skorcheva first saw the finished film at its world premiere in Karlovy Vary, and it exceeded all her expectations.
And although she is delighted with these awards, “the most wonderful experience in Karlovy Vary was not when they gave me the statuette, but when the film ended at the premiere and the People started clapping and standing up,” she said. “The standing ovation lasted more than 10 minutes. This emotional wave of recognition, love, admiration, when it passes from one person to another, it grows. I was in the center of these 1,400 people and I received this emotional tsunami; It was incredible.”
Skorcheva’s new international success at 69 has dusted off a decades-old prediction by the late Baba Vanga that when the actress grew older, she would receive “golden keys.” Skorcheva isn’t sure what that means, but many have interpreted her hoisting the trophy on the stage in Karlovy Vary as the fulfillment of the prophecy.
From The lessons of Blaga, Skorcheva directed one short film and turned down three feature film offers. She hopes there will be more after the film’s official premiere in Bulgaria later this month. At the same time, she works as an assistant to the director of a children’s hospital in Sofia.
“I have to work, I have no pension,” Skorcheva said, referring to a major fire a few years ago that destroyed the employment records of Bulgarian film actors like her, leaving them without papers. of retirement.
She says she’s too proud to take the plunge and beg for Social Security after working most of her adult life. “I prefer to work until I can, until I can’t breathe, but I won’t accept a pittance,” she said.
As for her own lessons, standing up for what she believes in and doing things her own way is an important task.
“Second, I am grateful for every single thing that has happened in my life because they have all taught me valuable lessons, given me a joyful or thought-provoking experience, and led me to Blaga’s lessons.”
Looking to the future, she said: “I am full of expectations and no matter what happens, I have no problem starting new things. None.”
Thursday, November 2, 7:00 p.m. PT
10840 Wilshire Boulevard
Westwood, CA 90024
Questions and answers after the film with Dir. Stéphane Komandarev
Reception with Dir. Stéphane Komandarev
Saturday, November 4, 2023 at 7:00 p.m. (Pacific Time)
Crescent Screening Room
100 N. Crescent Drive
Beverly Hills, California 90210
Reception with Dir. Stéphane Komandarev