Sundance 2017: The Good Postman
Tonislav Hristov’s The Good Postman begins with the titular postman – Ivan – trekking the perimeter of his skeletal town of Great Dervent. One of just forty members of his miniscule town nestled beside the Turkish-Bulgarian border, he searches for signs of Syrian refugees and dutifully reports to the border police. Yet, as the film progresses and as Ivan tries for a mayoral position in the impending election, he has a change of heart.
What is most remarkable about Hristov’s documentary is how, in this almost phantom-like town of Great Dervent, he finds a microcosm of a debate around the Syrian crisis that we see at not only a national, but international magnitude. Ivan’s other opponent – besides the town’s apathetic mayoral incumbent – is Ivan’s friend who oddly meshes his communist sentiment with nationalistic xenophobia. They clash over the film’s runtime like any two political candidates at any level of government do. Yet, what remains so poignant about the film is that despite their differences, all of the candidates, even the mayor – who is described by several characters as a persistent tax evader, find their way to a circular patio dining table by the end of the film.
This is a story of a town on the brink of becoming a ghost town cohering out of necessity. The film works because, despite not necessarily having a clear central thesis, it shows a world that is not so different from our own surviving due purely to its steadfast commitment to solidarity. And, despite the film’s focus on and rightful uplifting of solidarity, Hristov never wavers in his extolment of Ivan’s acceptance and love for immigrants whom he sees as not simply in need of care, but vital to the moral fabric of the town; as he repeats over and over on the campaign trail “[He] wants to accept Syrian refugees to live in harmony with the [remaining] town.”
The Good Postman plumbs urgent and vital questions around community, immigration, and xenophobia in a poignant distillation of the global refugee debate at a micro-level. It’s beautifully subdued and quietly haunting. But, it never feels distant. There are clear shades of the election season past in the town of Great Dervent. In the weathered faces of its forty-some residents we can see the many Americans who fretted over these same questions. And, it is perhaps in this universality that Hristov finds his richest storytelling vein.