Rotten Tomatoes (***)
This 2008 neo-noir, surrealist black comedy-drama about a Bulgarian inmate falsely convicted of murder who enters prison before the Communist takeover and emerges 20 years later after the regime’s establishment follows him through a strange odyssey on the first day after his release. Director Javor Gardev’s debut feature mixes genres to tell an intriguing story, one not unlike the supposed life review we all supposedly undergo at the time of death, but one that’s brought to life as a full-fledged interactive experience. Through it all, the often-perplexed but quietly inscrutable protagonist lives out a series of bizarre incidents with a former partner in crime, unfathomable authoritarian military figures, an odd collection of drunken patrons at a dive bar and a seedy night club, and a romantic interlude with an old flame, all culminating in a rainy night encounter in a creepy graveyard. Not all of the episodes work and the narrative;s inherent strangeness is sometimes a little too intrusive in the finished product, but the fine lead performance of Zachary Baharov, the film’s exquisite black-and-white cinematography, the picture’s truly off-the-wall humor, and the intriguing thematic issues explored help to compensate for these shortfalls. “Zift” definitely will not appeal to those whose tastes don’t include the enigmatic, macabre and unabashedly earthy, but, for those who are willing to take a chance on something challenging, eccentric and unorthodox, this one just might scratch that itch and do so in ways totally unexpected.