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By Rory L. Aronsky | June 3, 2003

One of the best things about this here writing gig is feeling as if you’ve discovered something wonderful in the films you watch. Filmmakers use a wide range of places, props, actors, methods, and so much more to get whatever they have to say or show, across to their viewing audience. With “Rocks and Chocolate” from Teddy Sharkova, that discovery is 9-year old Elena Vateva who proves far and away that child actors don’t need to be overly cute or know more than adults in movies, in order to be admired.
Vateva, billed only as “Girl” in this short film, brings such sensitivity and maturity to her role. Her character lives in an Eastern European country in 1996 that is not seeing the best of times. Food prices are skyrocketing and citizens are not happy in the least. When the film opens, she is collecting flat rocks and placing them in her pocket. At first, I thought we had a new Amelie here, but without the joy that comes with the activity. She is a “latchkey” kid as her father works during the day to earn what he can, and after she enters their small apartment, she takes down a small box from a shelf in the kitchen and dumps out the contents, many golden coins spilling on to the table.
She then gathers all of them and puts the flat rocks in the box, so as to make it look like that nothing has been touched. Next up for this young girl is a trip to the store to buy a candy bar and later on, she runs toward a bus which stops and her father steps off. What follows after that are some wonderful scenes that leads to an absolutely beautiful finish (And Pledge can also clean tabletops quite nicely…ah, forget it). The production design in this film certainly does wonders. The small apartment’s contents are laid out very nicely to show how both father and daughter live.
Malin Krastev, who plays the father, is astounding. He performs in such a way that you really feel that both are truly father and daughter. There are no emotional outbursts from him about his hard work or anything like that. He’s just really happy to see his daughter, who seems to be a bright, shining beacon in his workday. There’s a priceless scene where he gets eggs from the same store that his daughter went to (ok, I’ll explain a little further) and on the way home, she trips and drops the bag of eggs on the ground, cracking them. There’s no scolding here on this matter, as the real urgency is to get the eggs home and in a pan. It really shows you how incredibly valuable food is in their neck of the woods.

At one point, we hear about food prices going up on the television in the apartment and that provides an interesting contrast to what is going on, if you look and think hard enough. I’m not sure if Teddy Sharkova meant to do this, and I guess it’s really my own way of looking at this because of my ties to journalism. The news anchor on the program (Christo Chaushev) is impeccably dressed and reports on these protests, probably making a good load of money in reporting it, unknowingly contrasting with what we see in the apartment.
That’s all I’m going to say in regards to the plot. As it stands now, the film is eligible for submission to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to compete for an Oscar due to awards received at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival and the Athens International Film and Video Festival. Here’s hoping that it goes all the way toward that high honor!

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