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Stored “The Peach Thief” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

There is hardly a Bulgarian, especially of the older generation, who has not watched the films “The Peach Thief”, “Condemned Souls”, “Adaptation”, “King and General” and others. cult films from the glorious past of the native cinematography. Not to mention “Tobacco” – the film that earned its first native nomination for the Cannes Film Festival, and for which he is the cinematographer.

Nevena Kokanova and Yordan Matev as Irina and Boris Morev in the movie “Tobacco” (1961) Photo: Archive

His name stands under 14 masterpieces of Bulgarian cinema, as a director, cameraman and screenwriter. Rarely has a cinematographer so authorially combined all three major film components so successfully. But he could do it. And he created such a filmography that even today these are some of the most successful Bulgarian films that we remember with nostalgia.

Today marks 20 years since the death of Volo Radev.

Valo Radev on the set (Photo: Archive

The Museum of Modern Art in New York stores in the “Golden Catalog” the debut film of Volo Radev as director “The Peach Thief”. He is also the screenwriter of the film.

Before him, Radev shot the film “Tobacco” by director Nikola Karabov, and everyone still recognizes his work as the pinnacle of cinematography not only in our native cinema, but also among the best masters of the camera in world cinema.

Valo Radev has a remarkable destiny not only as an artist, but also as a person. He was born on January 1, 1923 in the village of Lesidren, Lovech region. He graduated from high school and then served in the Bulgarian Army (1942 – 1943).

He took part in the Second World War as an adjutant of the assistant commander of the Xth Infantry Regiment of the First Bulgarian Army. He was wounded on March 31, 1945. He survived and was awarded the Order of Military Merit.

Volo Radev (right) on the set of the film “The Longest Night” (1967) together with the cameraman Borislav Punchev (Photo: Archive

Volo Radev was one of the most awarded native filmmakers – he won two Golden Rose Awards at the Varna Film Festival for the films Tsar and General (1966) and The Longest Night (1967); for the film Black Angels from the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Czechoslovakia (1970); for directing the film “Condemned Souls” by the Union of Bulgarian Filmmakers (1975) and many more. etc.

As a citizen and public figure during his lifetime he was awarded the highest state awards, and posthumously – with the Order “Stara Planina” I degree (2003)

He began studying cinematography in Moscow, but graduated from the French Film Institute in Paris. Initially he worked only as an operator. About 30 years old enters directing. The premiere of his debut film “The Peach Thief” was in 1964.

Masterpieces of native cinema are being loaded: the films “King and General” (1966), “The Longest Night” (1967), “Black Angels” (1970), “Condemned Souls” (1975), “Adaptation” (1981) and others.

Valo Radev (in the middle) among his characters from the movie “Adaptation” (1981) Photo: Archive

Valo Radev was among our filmmakers with the most outlined, own and very distinct profile. His unique career, however, was followed by an equally emphatic silence. After the death of his son Radi in 1982, Volo Radev seemed to be doomed to silence. Radi died near his father’s birthplace, Lesidren. He was still a student. The reason – a severe catastrophe caused by the son of Todor Zhivkov’s personal pilot – Hristo Sirakov.

The latter was also seriously injured – he was in a coma for two weeks, but remained alive and served only a 2-year sentence. In the back seat of his car – only 19 years old and pregnant with a girl from Radi, was the daughter of the writer Diko Fuchedjiev – Milena. She is a direct witness and victim of the accident. He miraculously escaped from severe injuries.

The fruit of her love with Radi is also saved – their daughter, who by God’s will survives in the womb of her broken mother. A helicopter picks up the victims of the crash, among whom is its cause – Hristo Sirakov, but they fail to save Radi!…

Volo Radev’s son – Radi, who died in an accident in the 80s, as a student (Photo: Personal archive)

Today, born after the accident and named after her father Radina, she is a lawyer. She is the Bulgarian who participates in the world organization against the consequences of global warming. She is one of the children of Bulgaria, who grew up abroad from an early age, but is proud of her homeland – a hero of “Children of the Other Bulgaria”.

Her father was taken by a cruel fate even before she was born. This is one of the reasons why her mother Milena Fuchedzhieva considers Radi’s death unpaid.

During his lifetime, Hristo Sirakov admitted his guilt, saying that he was suffering because of Radi, but even this confession could not reconcile him with the living relatives of the deceased. This confession did not receive forgiveness and could not alleviate the father’s pain in the heart of Volo Radev.

Valo Radev during the filming of the series “Black Angels” (1970) Photo: Archive

Valo Radev created films unique in their dramatic content – he understood people and felt empathy for the fate of others, but the death of his son – such a real and strong in its tragedy experience, he could not accept until the end. One of our best native filmmakers, a man who knew the war up close and was even honored as a hero on the battlefield, seemed to collapse and sink into the loneliness of his pain.

In his film Condemned Souls, the director uses Dimitar Dimov’s novel as a story to provoke people to think about the meaning of human life. No, the way out is not in morphine, nor in adventure, nor in political doctrine. And where is he actually? – Maybe in faith in God, despite the shortcomings of the church as an institution?

But isn’t the tragic fate of Father Heredia hidden in his blind faithful service ?! Is it “right” to choose to sacrifice ?! – Probably these questions – about the meaning of existence, about destiny, free will and choice, have tormented Volo Radev until his end.

Jan Englert in “Condemned Souls” (1975) written and directed by Volo Radev (Photo: Archive

And if there is an alternative to change in art, in real life there is no way to “return the tape.” It is cruel, indeed, to experience such a tragedy on your own and to continue living with the torturous questions in your heart!

Their answers cannot replace a lack like this! Or maybe Volo Radev just refused to look for them in his work, because he could not cope with them out of grief for his son?!…

Shortly before the artist’s personal tragedy – in 1980, he experienced a creative disappointment. He wants to make an author’s film based on Haytov’s story “Dervish Seed”.

To this day, the reason why he stopped making The Poisonous Flowers remains unclear. Later, this question somehow loses its meaning, displaced by the tragedy. Volo Radev “fell silent”!

In the 90’s, Volo Radev seemed to want to save himself with “noise”, as one of his friends once aptly put it. It was as if he needed more noise around him to drown out the torturous questions under the “lining” of his soul.

Several very successful multimedia products were borrowed and realized: the Panorama of Bulgarian Culture in the Universiade Hall in 1983, the audiovisual performance of Tsarevets “Sound and Light” (1988), as well as the overall concept for the construction of the house-museum “Emilian”. Stanev ”in Veliko Tarnovo in 1987. It was also his idea to renovate the building of the mausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov in the Pantheon of National Reconciliation and Unity, which remained unfulfilled.

Nevena Kokanova and Rade Markovic in Volo Radev’s film “The Peach Thief” (1964) Photo: Archive

Volo Radev last tried to create cinema again in 1994. Then the media announced that it would screen Viktor Paskov’s famous story “Germany – a dirty tale”, but this ambitious endeavor also did not happen.

Death befell the soul of the artist, shortly before the Future for Bulgaria Foundation published the luxurious collection of works by Valo Radev “Lost Spaces”. The allegorical title “says” more than the long silence of its author. It “speaks” to us even today with his voice.

Valo Radev died on March 28, 2001.

To this day, the film “Tobacco” (1962) by Nikola Korabov, on which Volo Radev was the cameraman, is considered the pinnacle of cinematography in our native cinema.

The camera seems to penetrate deep behind the characters’ faces to detect something more than what is visible – their experiences.

The atmosphere, the details, make the audience’s perceptions to perceive and empathize with the events, as participants in the dramaturgy of the work.

Nevena Kokanova in the movie “Tobacco” (1961) Photo: Archive

This incredible ability of Volo Radev to “see” with the eye of the camera, because he knows professionally its most delicate possibilities, turned out to be extremely important for the impact of his first film as a director – “The Peach Thief”.

It is no coincidence that this film was chosen abroad as one of the examples of fine art. Everything in this film is so fine, somehow “dosed” strongly that it sounds like a “real” story.

It is no coincidence that critics describe this film as a “dramatic epic.”

Nevena Kokanova and Rade Markovic in Volo Radev’s film “The Peach Thief” (1964) Photo: Archive

Volo Radev’s films were not only an art that cultivates taste in the viewer, but they also helped many Bulgarian actors to express their best on screen.

Among them are Nevena Kokanova, Naum Shopov, Petar Slabakov, Georgi Georgiev-Getz, Ivan Bratanov, Andrey Chaprazov, Lyubomir Dimitrov, Rusi Chanev, Todor Kolev, Yosif Sarchadzhiev, Dobrinka Stankova, Valcho Kamarashev, Anya Pencheva, Eli Skorcheva, Nikolay Sotrov Lyuben Chatalov and many other prominent Bulgarian actors, who were then still at the beginning of their careers on screen.

Valo Radev was also one of the first Bulgarian directors to invite foreign actors to his productions in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Rade Markovic in The Peach Thief, Jan Englert in Condemned Souls and etc.

For the people he taught in cinema, he is still a teacher. They, in turn, remember one of his characteristic addresses to them – “child”. Thus, the memory remained in their hearts not only of the teacher, but also of something as a parent. As for a father who wanted to pass on the best to each of them, as to native children.

Petar Slabakov as General Vladimir Zaimov and Naum Shopov as Tsar Boris III in Volo Radev’s film “Tsar and General” (1966) Photo: Archive

“He was a teacher to many of us. Even those who come after us must learn from his films. They show how Bulgarian cinema is made, comparable to the world cinema. His works explore our soul, but are understandable on all continents. They are made with the ambition to be like that.

His stories touched, the emotions in them reached the whole audience. Volo was a very good narrator, he perfected the content and to the smallest detail, he worked wonderfully with the actors “, says in an interview the director Evgeni Mihailov.

Petar Slabakov as General Vladimir Zaimov and Naum Shopov as Tsar Boris III in Volo Radev’s film “Tsar and General” (1966) Photo: Archive

And probably the most accurate definition of Volo Radev, two decades after his death, is that time has proved that he was and remains recognized as a great master of cinema. This nice word, taken from the crafts of the old Bulgarians, as an expression of respect for their professionalism, today we respect the memory of Volo Radev.

His film “Black Angels” gathered 3,271,500 viewers, and “Condemned Souls” – 2,075,000. Figures that today both respect and instill sadness. Because of the thinning and then the desolation of our cinemas.

Twenty years ago, a man called to create, create and teach others to perfection passed away. Today, quite naturally, from the distance of time, we can declare it a classic, because what left us proved to be impermanent – it continues to excite us and teach us humanity.

Overwhelmed by fate, the wounded soul of Volo Radev continued to search for the meaning of human existence until the End. Silently. Hopefully, at least in the Otherworld, she has found her peace!

Violeta Gindeva in the series “Black Angels” (1970) Photo: Archive

Jan Englert and Edith Salay in “Condemned Souls” (1975) written and directed by Volo Radev (Photo: Archive

Anya Pencheva and Yuri Manolov in the film “Adaptation” (1981), directed by Volo Radev Photo: Archive

We are left with the master’s films, through which he will always “speak” to us. To us and to the next generations.