Danny. Legend. God. it’s called, though Danny. Asshole. Cock. might have been more appropriate, this being the portrait of a man of quite staggering front, bravado, bumptiousness, call it what you will, a legend in his own lunchtime aiming at the big time from his base in Bulgaria.
Danny. Quite exactly who he is, where he comes from or what he does we never quite find out. A gangster/businessman/official of some sort, being followed by a documentary team who are making a film about money-laundering, though Danny doesn’t really want to talk about that. Instead he buttonholes the entire crew – interviewer Susan (Kate Nichols), soundman Jaime (James Ryan Babson) and the cameraman who never appears in shot (Tony Cheung) and uses them as a focus for his bragging and self-validation. Danny says he owns a club and a lot of land and is building a chocolate factory. All we see as evidence is a bouncer Tanko (Emil Kamenov) and footage from one meeting… with an insolvency lawyer.
Yavor Petkov’s mock-doc opens (and closes) with vox pops with local people, who seem on the whole to approve of this maelstrom of self-regard. Maybe you have to be a bit of a gangster in times like these, one says, in the way people right now seem to approve of politicians who are out-and-out scoundrels and crooks.
Is Danny a stand-in for populist leaders the world over – Trump to Putin to Bolsonaro to Orbán? He might be. Certainly he’s a vulgarian. And his regard for other people is low – “Peasants, plasterers, prostitutes,” is how he characterises the mass of humanity at one point. “Future prostitutes…”, he adds, realising he hasn’t included the kids.
Danny might also be a singer and a ballet dancer, as he also claims. What Danny most looks like is a crisis of the male psyche locked in the aggrandisement phase of cocaine psychosis, and we see Danny snorting plenty, to the point where he drags the film crew with him when he heads off for a blow job, because the world will be interested in that, right, because he’s Danny. At home Danny has a bust of himself, Graeco-Roman style.
Petkov kicks off this demented road trip in familiar mock-doc mode – Borat or The Office – but at a certain point the focus begins to shift. The camera pulls back and starts including eye-rolls and snatched conversations held among the crew. They’re getting plenty of material but none of it is useable. Rather than Borat, the ghost of the 1992 Belgian mock-doc Man Bites Dog starts to rear its head (film crew gets far too involved in a documentary about a serial killer).
At the same time we start meeting other characters in Danny’s life, like his indolent, face-filling godson (Borislav Markovski) and airhead vlogger and influencer Maria-Magdalena-Jenna (Bulgarian chalga singer Suzanitta flicking a finger at the haters). As with Danny, the camera isn’t just documenting their behaviour, it’s enabling it. It’s brilliant casting all round, from the bit players upwards, though ultimately this is a one-man show.
In his feature debut, director Petkov is walking a tightrope. Danny has to stay properly, authentically dreadful and yet we also need to see some development, otherwise we’re just oohing and aahing at a firework display – stay true to the ethos of the documentary (people don’t change) or the needs of drama (oh yes they do).
Petkov tries to get round this unsquareable circle with inspired setups, from big ones (Danny’s flying kick at a passing kid on a bicycle is breathtaking) to tiny ones, like the interview in the bathroom where Danny is shaving his chest with a cut-throat razor. Oh vanity. What a performance by an often ad-libbing Dimo Alexiev as Danny, who’s huffed pure essence of Pacino-in-Scarface before each scene.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021