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Dyad Film Review: Uncomfortable but Necessary

Margarita Stoykova and a girl hold hands facing each other in front of a broken heart in the poster for the film Dyad

Margarita Stoykova shines with a heartbreaking performance in Dyad, a hopeless story about growing up in the Bulgarian province.

Having been born and raised in Bulgaria, one inevitably bears witness to Bulgarian cinema’s numerous attempts to depict the country’s bleak conditions of lower-class provincial life. However, Dyad takes risks where other projects don’t dare to and, in doing so, manages to prove itself as a monumental achievement both for the local film scene and for writer-director Yana Titova’s career. With her sophomore feature, Titova demonstrates a filmmaking voice that only promises to grow stronger with time.

Dyad is a character-driven narrative that scrutinizes the life of rebellious high school student Dida (Margarita Stoykova) as she does everything she can to survive in the grim conditions she’s forced to endure. Everyone in her life treats her with oblivious negligence: her incompetent teachers and psychologist, her abusive father, her self-absorbed best friend. Dida fends for herself, trying to make money in the darkest of ways to prepare her escape from this town. Her only dream is to flee this nightmare and move to New York to live with her mother and study art. Sadly, the trap she was born into may not be as easy to break out of as a one-way ticket purchase.

It’s inevitable for the protagonist’s story to resonate emotionally. The stakes are built masterfully. They feel high. You feel the weight of Dida’s longing, which drives her every decision, and the life-or-death worldview she lives by. New York is where her life needs to go at all costs. Staying in her current circumstances is not an option.

Lead actress Margarita Stoykova is the essential ingredient of what makes Dyad land its devastating premise and cling to audiences’ hearts after the end credits. Stoykova’s portrayal of Dida is grounded and thought-provoking. She encompasses a generation of teenage girls pushed to grow up too fast to defend themselves against cruelty and repulsive intentions.

Perhaps there’s even a discrepancy between Stoykova’s performance and the ones of her peers that is too tangible to work in the film’s favor. Her best friend Iva, for instance, played by Petra Tzarnoretchka, is confidently depicted as a more superficial character with more superficial concerns that stay on that level throughout due to superficial execution. 

Margarita Stoykova walks holding some books and looking upset in the film Dyad
Dyad (Portokal & No Blink Pictures / Sofia Film Festival)

What helps build a more vivid sense of Dida’s impactful struggles is Yana Titova’s attention to detail. She evidently prioritizes an authentic sketch of the environment: the language is harsh, rugged, infested with vulgar dialect, even in the most poignant moments. 

Dyad offers an awfully accurate depiction of the way the deeply damaged Bulgarian school system fails children due to inadequacy, disregard, and disgustingly selfish attitudes. The system itself is rotten, and it constantly eats away at teens with experiences similar to Dida’s, which is where the film strikes a chord.

The film succeeds at keeping you engaged for the most part, despite the lingering of dialogue scenes for noticeably long periods of time and the almost complete absence of any score until the end. In the brief parts when it struggles to stay engaging, those two components make it easier to notice the film’s obvious small-budget shortcomings, especially in technical proficiency and especially in sound. When the pace picks up, it’s easier to stay engrossed and unfazed by the technical imperfections, but in slower moments of silences and suspense, the scenes seem unfinished.

Dyad would have probably earned a lower rating for its few glaring flaws, but where it works, it works remarkably well. As extreme as it goes, it captivates you with a disheartening story about the true horrors of unsupported and neglected Bulgarian adolescence.

Dyad was screened at the Sofia Film Festival on March 15, 2024.

Dyad Trailer (PÖFF)
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