Hot Property: The Color of the Chameleon
By Nicolas Rapold
Don’t get mad, get even—or, better yet, get your own secret police. That’s what a frustrated informer does in The Color of the Chameleon, a deadpan Cold War satire from Bulgaria. In Emil Christov’s directorial debut, a peek behind the Iron Curtain turns into a darkly funny trip through the looking glass. The state recruits a young misfit named Batko (codename: Marzipan) to spy on a deviant literary club. When he files an obsessive report that’s intergalactic in scope and earns only his handler’s scorn, he concocts a fake espionage department for his own nebulous investigations and blackmail plots.
Written by Vladislav Todorov (also the brains behind 2008’s Zift), the film is hard to pin down. This is partly because Batko’s aims remain so inscrutable, as he coerces and compromises the intelligentsia of The Club for New Thinking. First glimpsed as a child with a masturbation compulsion, then reintroduced as a pale and scrawny adult, Batko is like a frustrated novelist, exercising his perverse imagination on the real world instead of the page. These grotesque scenarios, at times recalling the films of György Pálfi, are slickly handled by Christov, a veteran DP who shot Zift and who took over The Color of the Chameleon when its original director dropped out.
Does Batko epitomize the kind of creature that flourished in the darkness of totalitarianism, or is he just a nutjob? Most likely he’s a bit of both, as well as a patient, if not visionary prankster: elaborately twisted punchlines pay off when the action continues past the fall of Communism. Bulgarian cinema has, for many years, been close to nonexistent, but Christov and Todorov’s fervid fictions might just start to fill the void.
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