Sarajevo Film Review: ‘Rounds’

Variety | 8/18/2019 | Guy Lodge
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Five features (plus a scattering of documentaries) into his career, leading Bulgarian writer-director Stephan Komandarev has resisted cultivating a clear thematic or stylistic throughline to his oeuvre. Yet his latest, the overnight police patchwork “Rounds,” feels surprisingly close to quintessential, pulling as it does plot points, structural models and tonal switches from his previous films into one stacked crowdpleaser. Alternately wry and solemn as it follows three pairs of police officers through an eventful night’s patrol in central Sofia, “Rounds” unites several splintered mini-narratives about human trafficking, euthanasia and institutional corruption — among other hot-button topics — more cohesively and engrossingly than you might expect in its 106-minute runtime, though there’s as much soap as there is grit in the final mix.

A palpable hit with audiences upon its premiere at the Sarajevo Film Festival — where it scooped the Cineuropa Award, as well as the Best Actress jury prize for hard-bitten ensemble standout Irini Jambonas — “Rounds” isn’t afraid to play quite broadly with its social messaging and emotional manipulations. There’s enough political conflict and character complication here to keep things interesting, however: Viewers looking for a clear condemnation or endorsement of the boys (and beleaguered women) in blue will come away dissatisfied. That slightly barbed populist streak could make “Rounds” Komandarev’s most widely embraced film since his Oscar-shortlisted 2009 breakout “The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner.”

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The film stands as the second part, meanwhile, of a loosely conceived trilogy kicked off by 2017’s Cannes-selected “Directions”: roving ensemble pieces examining social injustice and inequality in contemporary Bulgaria through a series of colliding vignettes, given jittery, propulsive energy by cinematographer Vesselin Hristov’s nimble sequence shots. Taxi cabs were the, er, driving force of “Directions”; “Rounds” is a similarly road-based exercise in people-watching, but...
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