Zift ★½

Debut director Javor Gardev delivers a stylish but empty Bulgarian noir with the perhaps too-appropriately titled Zift. Taking its name from a slang term for the word “shit”, the film initially gives one hope with its black-and-white scope cinematography. Such faith is soon squandered, however, as Gardev fails to provide much else of interest. Part of the problem here is the heavy reliance upon voiceover narration. It is so prominent that it, when combined with an overcomplicated flashback structure, drains any sense of urgency from the film. As the movie stumbles inevitably toward its conclusion, it recalls any number of classic film noir set pieces, but fails to create any gripping personality of its own. The noir genre, perhaps more than any other, is dependent upon the presence of entertaining character actors in supporting roles. Pleasure in these films usually comes from being able to brush up against shady types we’d never meet in our daily life. The cast of Zift is a disappointingly generic series of Cold War-era archetypes. No one is able to enliven the film enough that we can shake off the narrator’s disaffected tone. If nothing else, Zift provides a lesson to those willing to tackle the genre: a double-cross won’t sting if we never cared in the first place.