Growing up my parents have made many attempts to get me interested in the pre-2000s Bulgarian art culture mainly because they have always wanted me to get a sense of what they loved when they were young.
As a teenager living in the era of technology and having access to everything Western pop culture has to offer I frankly couldn’t be less interested in Bulgarian old films so the first time I watched Vchera (eng. Yesterday) was not until a year after I moved to the UK. The reason I watched it in the first place was simply due to feeling homesick and nostalgic. Vchera centres the lives of the students in an elite Bulgarian high school whose parents are predominantly high-ranking Communist officials. Even though the story goes back and forth following the characters’ teenage dramas, love intrigues and cultural interests, the bigger picture shows their struggles against the absurd and oppressive Communist regime.
One of the plotlines at the back of the story is about a girl called Vera who disappears from the school because of her pregnancy and the principal’s attempts to cover it up in order to preserve the school’s elite reputation. He does get in trouble with some of the students’ parents when they find out about it which goes to show that in Communist Bulgaria everything is everyone’s business and privacy or freedom simply don’t exist. The overall atmosphere in the school is army-like, set by the principal’s absurdly strict rules. When a new literature teacher arrives at the school he takes a certain liking to a boy named Kostov who proves to be a very talented actor. When he recruits the boy to play the part of Holden in Catcher in the Rye for a Drama society, he is reproached both by the principal and the students’ parents. Think Dead Poets Society.
Everything the students do as a form of escapism, the school system is strictly against. They read Shakespeare, smuggle Western magazines and listen to The Beatles, simply dreaming of a more progressive society which seems unattainable.
The film creates a striking contrast between the the absurdity of Bulgarian authoritarian rule and the genuine values the students develop in their friendship group – their love, loyalty and devotion. Vchera has since become my favourite film of all time, reminding me how lucky we are that the world is moving forwards.