Film Festival Film #3: The Color of the Chameleon

The Color of the Chameleon is a Bulgarian film about secret police. The film is a little bit dark, and also a little bit absurd. Our anti-hero, Batko Stamenov, seems to have an aptitude for lying. And Onanism. So he gets recruited by the Secret Police to infiltrate a student group that’s geeking out over an anti-establishment novel called Zincograph (which is also the name of the novel that the film is based on). Oddly, the plot of the book seems to inspire him to start a career as a zinc etcher.

Batko also has an annoying landlady who mistakenly screws up his position with security services. Being an informant made him feel important, and losing the job brings out his resentment. So he kills his landlady and hides the body in an alcove in his house — he bricks up the alcove to hide the body. He also bricks up her bunnies.

But then he develops some weird ideas. Using his skills at zinc-etching and printing, he creates a fake security service id card, and starts recruiting his own informants. He recruits all the members of the last group he investigated — a weird, intellectual group called Speculum who, using sexual language for shock value, suggest that they’ll “probe all the orifices of power”. Soon he’s getting them to carry out strange assignments.

And then, suddenly, the Iron Curtain crumbles, and many of the intellectuals who were his fake informants end up becoming members of the post-communist government. Bulgarian society wrestles with the fact that so many people were informants with the security service; it’s an uncomfortable truth that people would rather not talk about. But Batko isn’t done toying with people, and he hatches yet another scheme.

As a film, it’s hard to classify because it’s so satiric and yet dark. There were times when elements of the plot were a bit opaque, but generally it was a good film.

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