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Marian Valev • Director of Bad Girl

“Zhaneta isn’t just a victim of her mother’s ambitions, but also of the sport itself”


- Director Marian Valev talks to us about his first feature film, Bad Girl, on the occasion of its screening at the 12th edition of Rome’s Festa del cinema bulgaro

Marian Valev • Director of Bad Girl

Famed for his roles in various TV series, especially Undercover, Bulgaria’s Marian Valev is making his directorial debut with Bad Girl [+see also:
interview: Marian Valev
film profile
, the story of an ex-rhythmic gymnastics champion turned stripper, whose life is turned upside down following an assault. We spoke with the filmmaker about his latest work during the 12th Festa del cinema bulgaro, where the film had its Italian premiere.

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Cineuropa: Is the script based on true stories? Where did you get the idea to set the film in the world of rhythmic gymnastics?
Marian Valev:
Yes, the film is based on not one, but a number of true stories, which I had the fortune, or misfortune, of witnessing in person. I decided to set it in the world of rhythmic gymnastics because the inspiration for the protagonist was a real gymnast who had to contend with so many things before my very eyes. But the other characters in the film are also based upon very real people, often my friends, some alive, others not. Theirs are stories which are obviously separate from that of the protagonist, but I wanted to bring them all together in one single narrative, which became the Bad Girl script.

Why does Zhaneta become a "bad girl"?
It’s a complicated question. Why does someone become bad? I suspect it’s linked to something deeper; all human beings have a bad side to them. The question is, what unleashes it? The first answer would be our parents, our upbringing. Zhaneta’s mother, who’s in the hands of the wonderful Stanislava Aramutlieva, has her own unfulfilled dreams to contend with – such as becoming a world champion – and she tries to project these onto her daughter. The problem, however, is that her daughter is a totally different person. Her emotions, her inner world, her intelligence are nothing like those of her mother. And then there’s rhythmic gymnastics, one of the most demanding sports; not just from a physical point of view, but also emotionally speaking, where the ambitions of the coach and the parents go far above the normal threshold... Zhaneta isn’t just a victim of her mother’s ambitions, but also of the sport itself. The third answer: the culture of the world around us and the way in which we think about 18-year-old girls. Unfortunately, the girls who practice this sport, and who spend 12-14 hours a day in the gym, often have the maturity of 12-year-olds. As a screenwriter, I imagined that Zhaneta’s character simply wasn’t able to tolerate the other three factors described above. She’s someone who reacts, who has her own opinion. And finally, of course, there’s the loss of her father, this huge family tragedy, and the sense of guilt that Zhaneta carries inside of her.

How did you choose Lybomira Basheva? What characteristics were you looking for in your protagonist?
I’d known Lybomira for a long time, I’d already worked with her in one of the best loved Bulgarian series, Undercover. When I wrote the screenplay and tried to visualise the girl in question, she was the one who came to mind. Yes, the story was that of a girl who I knew in real life, but in terms of the actresses who could play her, I never considered anyone else. The important thing, however, is that I didn’t write a screenplay adapted to the quality of the actress. On the contrary, I think I provided her with a real challenge, given how different she is from the character.

Where did you get the idea for the character of the investigator living with Asperger syndrome and played by Deyan Donkov? What is the nature of the relationship which develops between him and the protagonist?
This character is also based on a real person, a friend of mine who’s no longer with us. He was from my hometown, Varna, and he was a real investigator. He was a very gentle person, but very lonely. He had a beautiful family, but unfortunately life took them in different directions. He was one of those great yet reserved people who do so much, but who go unnoticed. Deyan Donkov is one of the best actors in Bulgaria. He has been a pillar of Sofia’s National Theatre for the past 10-15 years. He’s a sensitive and intelligent person whom I can trust, because we have a highly intuitive connection. He seemed perfect for the role in this so-called father-daughter love story, because his character in the film has lost his daughter and is trying to protect the protagonist, going so far as to risk his life for her. Here I have to say that I’m a huge fan of film noir, I tried to reverse typical gender roles, placing the mysterious woman at the centre and the investigator as an additional element who disrupts the story.

Visually speaking, what type of look were you going for with this film? Were you inspired by any particular work or director?
I’ve already mentioned film noir. I’m a big fan of Billy Wilder and 1950’s Sunset Boulevard. And, naturally, I’m a fan of Darren Aronofsky, especially The Wrestler and Black Swan and their "first person documentary style". For me, making a film is very similar to a battle: you need to work out the right strategy to lead you to victory and I think this is the point of each director’s style and genre.

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(Translated from Italian)

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