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Film / The Canary Season

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Canary Season (Сезонът на канарчетата) is a 1993 Bulgarian drama film telling the story of a single mother's struggle to carve out a life for herself and her son in communist Bulgaria.

Liliana "Lily" Krăsteva Tzvetkova awaits her son Malin's return from prison, where he spent half a year for beating up her lover to protect her. The young man is additionally troubled by his ex-girlfriend being taken by the local gang leader. He reunited with her, but the gang beats Malin up. Desperate for consolation, he confronts his mother about her lover and how she has left him, Malin, without a real father. While digging for money, he finds a series of old love letters to his mother, signed by one Slavcho. By way of coincidence, he remembers that he's seen the man at the youth correction school he was sent to, and goes to confront him, but Slavcho knows nothing about having a son with Lily. Malin then takes it to his mother, who is forced to finally sit down and tell him the tragic story of his conception and her plight to secure a decent living for both of them.


In Shabla, a coastal town in 1960s Bulgaria, Lily and her boyfriend Slavcho ("Slavi") are in their final year of high school. They are happily in love, but Lily is worried when Slavcho is about to be drafted into the army. Soon after, Lily's friend Tzetzka takes her to a café and introduces her to her boyfriend, Ivan Filipov who's the son of the local Communist party secretary and thus is the wealthiest, most influential and most flamboyant young man in town. Ivan is the resident bad boy, bully and womanizer, and Lily does not feel good in his company. On New Year's Eve, Lily goes to meet Tzetzka and go to the movies, but only Ivan is there. He lures Lily to his apartment and rapes her, leaving her to stagger back home as fireworks go off.

Since Ivan is virtually untouchable by the authorities, the best Lily's family can hope for is for the court to force him to marry her. This is indeed what happens, but since Lily would not have sex with him, Ivan starts bringing mistresses home. After she gives birth to Malin, she packs her things and goes to her parents' house, where Ivan's mother soon appears, exposing Slavcho's letters and using them as a reason to settle a divorce. Not long after Lily is taken to a women's concentration camp where she witnesses brutal torture. Lily decides to move away from Shabla and together with Malin takes a train to the capital, unsure of what to do next. Her adventures take her to the home of a wealthy elderly woman who takes her in, to a hospital where murders are being covered up, to a psychiatric ward, until she can finally secure a place to live for her and her son.


This film includes the following tropes:

  • Adult Fear:
    • Lily's father finally snaps into it after he understands his daughter is pregnant.
    • Margie, one of Ivan's former mistresses, and Lily both experience that after being taken away to an unknown place (a concentration camp) without knowing what will happen to their children.
  • Animal Motifs:
    • Canaries get mentioned often, symbolizing family (if they're in pairs) or finding a home (when Malin wants a cage with two bought in the end, Lily tells him they'll be happier in captivity). The song Blue Canary by Vincent Fiorino is also heavily featured, at times sounding outright creepy ( during Lily's rape scene it's practically a Drone of Dread).
    • Margie, the waitress at the café in Shabla, is compared to a stork for her red stockings. Later when she and Lily meet in the concentration camp, a guard compares Margie to a stork so she can argue that storks "eat stones when there are no frogs" and bash her teeth with a rock.
  • Bald Woman: Lily gets shorn after being committed to a mental institution, causing her son to mistake her for a man when she goes to pick him up from the orphanage:
    Malin: You're not an auntie, you're a soldier!
    Lily: I'm mom.
  • The Baroness: The concentration camp guards embody this trope, beating women up, whipping them, feeling them up, and, in Margie's case, beating her in the face with a rock and later setting her hair on fire. Truth in Television, based on the memoirs of a real inmate in a Bulgarian concentration camp.
  • Bedlam House: Lily gets thrown into one after she stumbles upon a murder cover-up in the hospital she works in.
  • Bitch Slap: Lily gives one to her son to get him to shut up and listen to her story.
    Lily: I was in my last high school year.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Malin drops one while ranting at his mother:
    Malin: I have no father! Or merits! Or father with merits!
  • Commie Land: The film is set in Bulgaria during the 1960s. Played for drama, showing the oppressive regime and how its oligarchy, political repressions, concentration camps and secret agents can ruin the life of an ordinary citizen.
  • Foreshadowing: Before Slavcho is drafted, there's a scene of Lily watching him lose an arm-wrestling contest to the much stronger Ivan at a party. Ivan gloats in Slavcho's face and steals his firecracker.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Malin is troubled, aggressive and abusive, but he still jumps to protect his mother when her lover forces himself on her.
  • Future Loser: Ivan has a run-in with his son at the end of the movie, where he's turned to drinking and is broke. He's also mellowed out somewhat from the cockiness in his youth, since he offers to give Malin a drink.
  • Heroic Bastard: Zigzagged. Malin is mocked for his bastardy, and while not a villain, this has still made him short-tempered, abusive and rude. His grandparents forced his father to marry his mother to avoid exactly that, but the father left and threw the mother under the bus.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Ivan has a moment of humility when he's waiting outside Lily's hospital room as their son is born. He does nothing about it and his mother has Lily and other women he has children with thrown into a camp.
  • Nom de Mom: Malin is named Malin Krăstev Tzvetkov after his mother, which is unusual and indicates his bastardy, to his chargin. It was her decision not to name him Malin Ivanov Filipov after his father, since he is a Child by Rape.
  • Overlord Jr.: Ivan Filipov is the son of the regional party secretary in Lily's hometown, which enables him to be a bullying womanizer and even rape women with impunity.
  • Prince Charming: After being taken in by "Aunt Addie", Lily gets courted by a man who seems to be this trope. He's actually Prince Charmless, a secret agent putting Lily to a "frame or be framed" Morton's Fork so he can confiscate Adriana's house.
  • Sex for Services: Lily had to exploit this trope to get out of the psychiatric ward.
  • Tell Me About My Father: Malin rudely pressures his mother about this, then wishes he hadn't.
  • Tragic Keepsake: When they first meet, Ivan gives Lily a small mannequin whose torso is a heavy ball so it sits upright, and tells her people sit because "our butts weigh more than our heads". He then plops it into her palm when she thinks a marriage would mean she has his support. Later she keeps it so it can remind her of her own naivety.
  • Trauma Conga Line:
    • Lily's life. Ever since her high school boyfriend gets drafted in the military, Lily is left alone. Her friend intruduces her to Ivan who later rapes and impregnates her, with the court ruling out that they have to get married. Ivan cheats on his wife, bringing mistresses home, then with the help of his mother exposes her correspondence with her boyfriend so he can charge her with infidelity and leave her; she is then taken to a political inmate camp where she witnesses torture and depravity; when she returns home, her family who knows nothing gives her a cold welcome and she leaves for the capital. Once there, she is taken in by a Bourgeouis old lady and even gets a boyfriend but he turns out to be a spy who tries to have her frame her benefactor of treason on pain of getting framed herself. Lily doesn't give in but the man forces her caregiver to frame her instead, after which she manages to find work as a cleaning lady in a hospital; after she witnesses a political murder cover-up there, she is sent to a mental institution, from where she has to escape via sex and collect her child from an orphanage; while she manages to then find a home and a living, and even a lover, the man is sometimes abusive, as is her son who knows nothing of his parentage; when she finally has enough and tells her son everything, he snaps and steals a motorcycle to reunite with his ex-girlfriend, then dies in a road accident.
    • Margie the waitress has it even worse. Like Lily, she has been seduced and possibly raped by Ivan, by whom she has a child. He continuess to harass her after dumping her, then has her sent to the same camp as Lily, where the two meet. Margie is more rebellious, having gone mad from the trauma, and one camp guard beats her up and sets her hair on fire. Lily saves her but doesn't hear from her after leaving the camp.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: After enduring many hardships, Lily is taken in by a kind old lady named Adriana and offered the life of a Proper Lady she has always dreamed of, even getting into a happy relationship. Her boyfriend turns out to be an agent of the intelligence services who seeks to appropriate her benefactor's house. He tries to force Lily into signing a false report framing Adriana to confiscate the house. When Lily doesn't give in, he has Adriana sign a similar fake report framing her, which leaves Lily homeless again.

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