My favourite film when I was ten years old was... Ghostbusters.
Sinkkuelämän Säännöt (2011)
LIKE MANY foreigners in Finland, Tonislav Hristov came here to follow his heart. In love with his Finnish wife, he settled down, learned Finnish, and began a filmmaking career. Then disaster struck. The breakdown of his five-year marriage led to a “tragicomic” period of dating and soul-searching documented in Sinkkuelämän Säännöt (“Rules of Single Life”), in which Hristov and his single immigrant friends try to get back in the saddle and sort out their love lives. The film won best documentary at the Sofia International Film Festival this year and is out now on DVD in Finland. We spoke with Hristov on the phone from his native Bulgaria – where he is tying the knot a second time.
So you’re getting married! Congratulations. Who is she?
It’s Andrea, the woman who I’m dating at the end of the film.
A Hollywood ending, then.
Yes, I suppose so! [Laughs]
She is Bulgarian as well, right?
She’s originally Bulgarian but she’s been living in Germany for about the past 10 years. She went there when she was a teenager.
Are you going to keep living in Finland?
Well, I’m continuing to live in Finland. She’s just graduating this year from the University of Munich, so it’s not quite decided yet.
What are the rules of single life, exactly?
Basically, there are quite many technical rules – how you should behave, what you should say, what you should wear, and so on – but the most important rule is to never stop trying, not to give up on finding real love. To try and try to become a better person, to better understand who you are and what you’re looking for. It will be easier to find that way. And you can’t give up, even if your heart has been broken. That’s the most important rule. The film is called Rules of Single Life, but it’s more about friendship, self-awareness and love. It’s not an American-style romantic comedy.
One in four marriages in Helsinki these days involves a foreign partner. The statistics also show that more Finnish women than Finnish men are seeking foreign partners. Did you ever feel that being a foreigner was an advantage in dating life?
No, I really don’t think so. I would say in reality it’s harder, actually. Maybe it’s easier to find – how do I say this without sounding like a jerk – maybe it’s easier to find someone for a short-term relationship, because we’re foreign, something new, maybe a little exotic. But for a lasting relationship, I think it’s harder. My friends and I joke about it, but I do think Finnish women, and women from northern Europe generally, have real trust issues with men from eastern and southern Europe. Maybe that’s because our culture is more ‘macho’, with more clearly defined masculine and feminine roles.
And in the end, you ended up not settling down with a Finnish woman.
I didn’t, no. But you know what, my other friends have ended up with Finnish women, including Zoran from the film. Although I generalise, ultimately it’s really more about person-to-person interaction and not so much about where you’re from. It’s more important that you click as individuals.
How are you with your ex-wife?
I’m on very good terms with her. We are very good, close friends. It just didn’t work out. Mixed marriages, it is often said, have a higher rate of failure than unmixed ones. Perhaps that is because a lot of them are happening quite fast. My own first marriage happened very quickly – we didn’t really have time to date in the usual way. We just fell in love and did something crazy and romantic. But when time passes and things settle down, the reality can be different.
If you want to give a chance to a young relationship between people from different countries, sometimes there’s no legal option but to just get married and see what happens.
That’s true. Before my first wife and I got married, she would come to Bulgaria for a few months, and I would go to Finland for a few months, and we carried on like that for two years. But the only way to see whether the relationship was for real would be to live in the same place at the same time, and the only way to do that was to get married. Eventually, though, it was clear that it wasn’t working. I think what happened to us is quite common, unfortunately.
Are you going to make a sequel, Rules of Married Life?
One of my friends who just got married a few months ago said to me, ‘There are so many little weird things I didn’t know about marriage. You’ve got to make another film!’ I said, no thanks, people will think I only make films about couples and dating. [Laughs].
What are you working on next?
Another documentary. It’s about five engineers who are super active on social networks, they have thousands of friends on Facebook, and yet they are struggling socially, they are really disconnected from social reality. These instruments of connection – phones, computers, the internet – can be really helpful, but sometimes they can actually do more to disconnect us from each other. In some sense, I’m continuing the search for better ‘rules’, this time in a technological and not a dating context.
Would you say as a filmmaker you’re interested in these kinds of unwritten social rules and the issues that surround them?
Yes. That’s what I’m most interested in.
Photo: Nikolay Naidenov