If you come across a huge stash of money, just walk away. That is one lesson to be learned from such movies as “No Country for Old Men” (2007), “A Simple Plan” (1998), and Bulgarian filmmakers Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s aptly titled “Glory.” It opens at the Museum of Fine Arts on Sunday.
Whether you keep the cash or turn it in — either way, you’re doomed. The best thing to do is pretend it never happened.
This is not what Tsanko Petrov (played by the noisomely heartbreaking Stefan Denolyubov), a simple, stuttering, scraggle-bearded loner, does when he comes across a bag of millions of euros scattered across the railroad tracks.
For decades he has worked as a lineman, dutifully tapping the rails along his route with a giant wrench and tightening a bolt when the steel rings false. Despite his destitution, he turns over the found money to the authorities.
The authorities, meanwhile, have another problem — financial improprieties that a muckraking journalist has been doggedly pursuing. Their PR hotshot Julia Staykova (Margita Gosheva) sees Petrov’s noble act as an opportunity to distract from the scandal. She arranges a big ceremony where the transportation head offers Petrov a cheap watch for his heroic service. Absent-mindedly, Staikova removes Petrov’s own watch, his Glory (“Slava” in Russian; a Soviet era, cheap watch brand made for the workers) engraved to him by his father, to receive the new one. Then she forgets to return it. Needless to say the new one runs slow.
Otherwise meekly obedient, Petrov draws the line at the lost watch. “Where’s my Glory?” he stammers, and the allegory, though transparent, is nonetheless powerful; it operates in the narrative with appropriately watch-like precision. In the post-communist world, workers can expect to get no better deal than they did under the crooked old system. Work hard with slavish dedication and get a bogus payoff and cynical exploitation — in this case serving as optics to cover the sins of the money-hungry ruling class.
Grozeva and Valchanov relate their morality play with the fluid, grimy realism that has been the trademark of films made in Romania, their neighbor state lately enjoying a renaissance in cinema. Like films such as Cristi Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005), “Glory” transforms that realism into metaphors that don’t just criticize a particular system but lay plain the universal exploitation of the weak and honest by the corrupt and powerful.
Directed by Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov. Written by Grozeva, Valchanov, and Decho Taralezhkov. Starring Stefan Denolyubov, Margita Gosheva. At Museum of Fine Arts. 101 minutes. Unrated (infuriating injustice, misdirected anger, poor hygiene).Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.