If it’s hard to sympathize with the lead character in a romantic comedy, the picture is likely to be a bust. That’s the case with this garish, frenetic but curiously dull entry from Spanish writer-director Eloy de la Iglesia. It bends over backwards so far to charm us that it collapses in a heap of forced farce.
The central character in “Bulgarian Lovers” is Daniel (Fernando Guillen Cuervo), a gay Madrid business consultant with an upper-middle class life and a few ostentatious friends, most notably the flamboyant Gildo (Pepon Nieto). At a party he meets the smoldering Kyril (Dritan Biba), one of many darkly handsome immigrants from the impoverished Balkans who hope to make money in the west, often by servicing gay men or engaging in smuggling. Daniel falls for Kyril and they become a couple, even though Kyril makes it clear that he has a girlfriend he intends to marry and that his relationship with Daniel is purely a business arrangement. Eventually Kyril’s fiancée Kalina (Anita Sinkovic) finds her way to Spain, but the besotted Daniel continues to help him, even when it becomes clear that he’s involved in very shady enterprises. He even allows his snooty family to become implicated in Kyril’s dealings, which–in a twist that hardly seems very funny in today’s world environment, apparently include trafficking in stolen nuclear materials from the old communist block.
The essential problem with the picture, adapted by Cuervo and the director from a novel by Eduardo Mendicutti, is that we’re apparently supposed to find Daniel–who, in the unfortunate fashion typical of too many movies nowadays, addresses us directly throughout–a likable, if skittish, fellow, and his longing for Kyril understandable. Both are very doubtful propositions. As written, Daniel seems a fairly obtuse fellow, whose good-naturedness crosses the line into a foolish willingness to be used and used again, and Cuervo overplays him, sometimes coming across as an Iberian version of Roberto Benigni (oh, the horror!). Biba’s Kyril, meanwhile, has a certain grim intensity to him, but he never really convinces as an object of virtual adoration. Among the other cast members, Nieto offers an exaggerated, almost stereotypical portrait (Roger Pera, as a lawyer member of the group, is more restrained), and Anita Sinkovic is colorless as Kalina.
As for de la Iglesia, he tries to liven up the material with a glitzy, scattershot approach that comes across as more exhausting than enlivening. As a whole, “Bulgarian Lovers” suffers from a serious case of the cutes, a disease that in this case proves fatal. If you’d like to see this sort of romantic triangle handled more successfully, try Matteo Garrone’s Italian drama “The Embalmer,” which had its flaws but was surely better than this heavy bit of cement-footed whimsy.