Berlinale Day 2: Django (2017)

The opening film of the Berlinale competition is yet another take on the sufferings brought on by the second World War. In a mixture of biopic and historical drama, Django fails in standing out from the crowd, walking down the one-dimensional route of escape from Nazi persecution, while rendering its characters secondary.

Django Reinhardt, a guitarist of Romani ethnicity, is dazzling the crowds in Paris during the later days of the German occupation. The specter of deportation looms over his family, his band, yet he refuses to accept the idea that anyone would harm him, due to his positive notoriety. However, after declining to tour in Germany, a quick visit to a local police station makes him see the light, as he flees close to the Swiss border, awaiting transfer. There, he comes across a local Romani camp and they come together to perform music in the area, as a means for survival. 

That’s pretty much the gist of the story, which is as bland as it sounds. After a great opening scene, followed by an equally impressive musical performance, the movie drifts into this grey area where not much happens. Reda Kateb’s performance is strong enough to retain some interest, yet the production lingers without delving deeply into either Django’s person, nor the plight of the Romani people. Whenever music starts playing, the film comes to life, but this is not sufficient to keep a rhythm.

It’s a shame, really, because there are glances of why Reinhardt could have been a relevant leading figure. Being unable to read or write, and bearing a childhood injury on his playing hand,his performances come from a deeply rooted passion for music, seemingly instilled by his Romani heritage and culture. This generates the contrast of music from the heart and music from the head, which is not subtle, yet it plays well with how ridiculously rigurous and lifeless Nazi censorship was. The close knit relations with his family, band and the fellow survivors he meets at the Swiss camp are well shaded against Reinhardt’s privileged position, and his sense of entitlement. Yet, there is no clear sense of inner conflict, although the movie does imply that his personal quest is to learn some self sacrifice, putting himself second.

This is part of the problem, that Django just can’t set itself apart and come across without conviction. Supporting characters have little to no personality, and function as either plot enhancers, or easy to swap band members. Only the relationship between Reinhardt and his mother is distinguishing, even if it feels at times like comic relief. The generic portrayal of the Nazi oppressors doesn’t help either, as is the case with some of the elliptical moments in the story. Even the name of the movie should have given pause for thought: how does one make something distinctive with such an overused title?

Django would have been a much better experience, had it stuck to its music, especially as some of the artist’s work was lost, which is a cause for grief. As another survival movie from the war, it falls flat, especially compared to some of the previously released hard-hitting productions, be they grim or soulful representations of the horror.

**

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Berlinale Day 1: The Wound (2017)

A South African film was on show for the opening night of the Berlinale. Directed by John Trengove, it’s the story of Xolani, set against the backdrop of a local circumcision initiation ritual. Barely had I settled into my seat, that penises were being sliced up at the edge of a forest, in ad-hoc conditions. So, yeah, it caught my attention.

The whole story though finds itself at an interesting intersection between tradition, homosexuality and validation. For Xolani, who otherwise works in the city, it’s the yearly return ‘in the mountains’, to meet Vija, the man he loves. For Kwanda, Xolani’s initiate, it’s the pressure to conform with alpha male stereotypes. For most of the other participants, it’s a last stand in the face of modern turpitude, both a rite of passage into manhood and a rite of separation from the others. 

The first half or so of the movie, which sets the scene and introduces the characters, is almost fascinating. With strong acting all around, it’s easy to get sucked into the experience and what’s even more impressive, is the manner in which Trengove infuses such sensibility in something that otherwise could count as butch. The contrasting personalities are wrought with tension, culminating in some beautiful moments of just…being. It all comes to life thanks to commanding craftsmanship and an eye for strong visuals, which is one consistent feature throughout.

Unfortunately, the latter part of the film elects to go for a more traditional exposition and resolution, with uneven pacing. What’s worse though is the characters losing some of their sharpness, especially in scenes where they are turned into mere rhetoric tools. By the time the finale came around, I felt waywardly uninvolved. It’s like the need for relevance and clarity became overbearing.

All things considered, The Wound stands as a film that, at its best, conveys a unique poetic restraint. It might not shine all the way through, yet it provides insight into a corner of the world that’s usually left in the dark, tackling some big themes on the way. I would never want to fault someone for being too ambitious, so The Wound gets my recommendation.

***

Camera obscura (2016): Anachronistic Avantgarde

The last year or so has seen several Romanian documentaries about cinematic heritage and the associated resistance against the communist dictatorship, with Chuck Norris vs. Communism (2015) [review] and Cinema, mon amour (2015) [review] at the forefront. Their desire to paint this picture of subversiveness is a stretch undermining some of the unique stories they
present and Camera Obscura proves a perfect companion piece in this regard.

camera-obscura
Starting with the sixties, many state owned companies (usually in the primary or manufacturing industries) decided to subsidize some form of cinema clubs, providing obsolete tools from before the war and facilities for those interested to partake, with the aim of fostering some sort of communal film-making endeavour. The objective was to produce mostly propagandistic material, document work procedures and provide some stock footage of day to day activities. However, a great temptation to go beyond this existed and was not rigorously discouraged, conditioned by strict monitoring and censorship.

Camera obscura is, for better and worse, a walk down memory lane. A series of talking heads are interspersed between archival footage ranging from the mundane to, honestly, the sublime. The discussion is not particularly focused, but the emphasis falls on the technical aspects conditioning production, as well as the comprehensive interest in cinematic aptitude – rather than cinematic art. It makes sense, as the people partaking in the cinema clubs mostly had a technical background. Yet, especially because of this, some of the best moments in the movie come to the fore: a sisyphic, anti-system short about a man pushing a nut with his nose; a Beckett-esque scene with three men sharing a metallic office closet; a metaphoric cartoon about going to the store and buying some (very rare) chicken wings; or a visual analysis/juxtaposition of drawings following the rhythm of a scene in traffic. In a way it’s funny, because there’s a lot of talk about a kind of experimental cinematic avantgard, when actually, due to existing limitations, most of the work looks like a rehash of the 1920s.

The filming constraints provide some perspective and they frame the idea of the amateur filmmaker – something that has since vanished, in that it has become ubiquitous. But the movie is too stuck in its reminiscences to look for such shifts, which makes it plod at times. This happens particularly in some of the lackluster anecdotes the protagonists retell, or when it offers (unnecessary) interpretation. The nostalgia effect becomes overwhelming, which in itself is not an issue. However, with better framing and contextualization, certain paradoxes and inherent compromises would have become more apparent to viewers. For example, the atmosphere described at the clubs is often romantic, with only regulators being indicated as constraints to the film-making freedom. Yet, it is an accepted truth that with the clubs organized under the unions, there would have been ‘infiltrators’ within them, ready to report on any ill-doings.

While these shortcomings could be overlooked due to the rather solid and coherent material put together by Gheorghe Preda, what I cannot abide by is the occasional lack of focus and the complete pivot made in the final scenes to connect the clubs to the 1989 Revolution. Within ten minutes, there’s a (wannabe) amusing breaking-the-documentary-wall moment, when an interviewee calls his wife and asks her to take care of their dog barking incessantly, followed by fully explicit scenes of freshly dug up bodies of people killed during the Revolution. Talking of rhythm and story, this just doesn’t work and it is not justified either, in the context of what the movie is about.

I would have loved to understand what the people involved in the film-making process ended up doing with their post-communist lives, whether all the precious time spent in understanding the process saw them practice it once they had the freedom to do so. Knowing what the landscape of Romanian cinema was like in the 90s, they probably did not, but this was something worth exploring in conclusion. It would have been more appropriate to the people who took part in this movie, mostly people who have not found artistic or, presumably, financial actualization post ’89.

I do recommend Camera obscura, especially if you have an interest in film-making, because it provides some special moments along the way. It’s just unfortunate that a certain unwillingness to prod deeper and a lack of visionary discipline undermine it over the long run.

***

P.S. When I left the cinema, the projectionist, standing in the freezing cold to have a smoke, stopped me to say that he knew one of the protagonists well, a devoted communist party member in the day. No clue if it’s true, maybe it’s just a neighbour he doesn’t like, but this is the kind of prodding I expected from the movie, with a camera being such a powerful tool during those days, that it was anything but neutral and apolitical.

Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément! (2015): A Wall Apart

Trying out my new Netflix subscription (thanks dad! also, I really think VR has many useful business applications, you should  think about getting that as well), I ended up watching a little French romantic comedy last night. Full disclosure, 2016 hasn’t been a great romancing year for me, so I get easily irked by too much quirky stuff or unsubstantiated love kernels. And for the most part, easy-breezy romcoms tend to consist of a string of those. So it’s at least partly my fault that Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément! (you know I can’t pronounce that, so let’s just go with the English title: Blind Date) didn’t stick.

blind-date

Then again, it felt like all the creators were working with was a concept and a final scene: the former bordering on the absurd, the latter more romantic than I was set up to expect, by the look of things. Everything else was filled in with a competent, but cloggy and predictable plot and endearingly cardboard-y characters.

OK, that’s harsh.

The leads have a tinge of something special about them, both reclusive introverts, passionate creatives – playfully nicknamed Machine and Machin. Separated by a thin and not at all soundproof wall, they get to organizing their lives around one another and ultimately fall for each other. The secret sauce lies in them not having seen each other and therefore being able to focus on the essence of what’s being conveyed. At times, the two even have enough personality to be more than cardboard cut-outs. Also, ‘Machine’ (Mélanie Bernier) is adorable.

Instead of spending more time with them, we’re served with two second-hand supporting characters, the adulterous sister (or was it friend?) of ‘Machine’ and the overly supportive friend of ‘Machin’. The problem with these two is that they bring nothing to the story. Instead, they are classic counter-points – the rebellious matron to the timid girl, the happy-go-lucky fellow to the misanthrope. This makes them superfluous, because no time is dedicated to truly fleshing them out enough for anything they do to even matter.

Coming back to our protagonists, their purpose is to free one another of what’s tying them down, while also coming together. For one, it’s a perfectionist obsession with the creation brain-teaser games; for the other, it’s a perfectionist obsession with playing the piano. It fits, we do like fixing in others what we can’t fix in ourselves. This takeaway, so common to romantic comedies, is the bane of my existence. To its defense, Blind Date tries to nuance the matter, as one might find motivation in another, but still needs to independently commit to change. There’s just an excessive amount of wish fulfillment about the movie, as too much is left unexplored to really make it worthwhile. Luckily, the bits of Chopin scattered throughout offer a helping hand.

People seem to like the flick, so with my disclaimer in mind, take what you will out of this review. Yet I cannot help being disappointed, because while it does feel authentic at points, it predominantly appears trite. Maybe I should just lower my pretentious romcom bar a notch or two.

**

Nocturnal Animals (2016): The Story Within the Story

Any follow-up to ‘A Single Man’ was bound to be challenging, with bar set so high. Expectations are a horrible thing to have. Ironically, Tom Ford puts together an intricate tale about exactly that: expectations and love and mistakes and payback. It is captivating thanks to the lead trio of Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon. It works visually in spite of the occasional clichés. But it’s not an even story and the mediocre writing cannot be forgiven. Implicitly, Nocturnal Animals taints itself with the muck of pretentiousness. Yucky muck.

nocturnal-animals

Susan, unhappily wrapped in her glamorous life as director/board member of an art gallery, receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward. It’s a book about a family being assaulted on a lonely country road by a bunch of aggressive do-nothings. Susan begins to read it just as her own ideal marriage cracks at a distance and we are enveloped by the story within the story. One, in the cold and sterile home/life Susan has built for herself, the other in the violent, passionate, conflicted Western-ish decor of Edward’s novel. The parallels between the two are as plentiful, as they are visceral. Which is the best thing that can be said about Nocturnal Animals.

Amy Adams is such a strong presence on screen. She is particularly adept at portraying frailty, the kind that works as an undercurrent more than a dominating trait (see Arrival for even more nuance). Jake Gyllenhaal, meanwhile, atypically provides the ‘weak’ character, the dreamer, the one who is sensitive to a fault. It is in this study of what we might desire and how elusive it all is, how hard it is to find the right amount of something at any given time in another person that Nocturnal Animals strikes an honest chord. What carries the movie beyond the procedural ‘catch-the-bad-guys’ it sets up for itself, is an unpredictable, loose and enthralling Michael Shannon, who plays the law enforcement element. And Aaron Taylor-Johnson isn’t a half bad asshole either.

The problem is there are several filler characters as well, such as some of the party faces (even if they were mightily familiar, i.e. Michael Sheen and Andrea Riseborough), Armie Hammer’s role as the distant husband, or Laura Linney’s domineering mother-figure. It’s particularly a problem because, to me, they are the ones supposed to be the nocturnal animals, the predators. And in this commentary on a social divide, the movie falls short, because all it does is point caricatures of fingers at it. The uninspired writing, including some awful and pedantic dialogues, kept taking me out of where I wanted to be, enjoying the drama. And some fairly random scares did little to help with it either. The movie just can’t strike a consistent tone, trying to be a lot of things at the same time and inevitably failing.

So yes, I was disappointed. Tom Ford might not have undermined his stylistic approach, as he still manages to iron over the elements that don’t work so well by applying his particular aesthetic. But if it were not for some of the performances on screen, it would be really hard to recommend Nocturnal Animals – which is pretty damning. Well, expectations and all considered.

***

Afacerea Est: That’s How It’s Done (2016)

I still recall Igor Cobileanski’s first two shorts (“Cand se stinge lumina” and “Sasa, Grisa si Ion“, video links included) with great fondness. It was the earlier days of the internet and youtube when someone recommended them to me and, to this day, every time conversations turn to movies from Moldova, I chuckle. After missing out on the first feature film directed by Cobileanski, quite different from the darkly humorous tone of his shorts, Afacerea Est (English Title: Eastern Business) promised to be more of, let’s say it, his trademark style.

afacerea-est

A meek and naive music teacher Marian (‘intellectual’) is forced to team up with a harsh, rudimentary, yet world-wise fellow Petro (‘entrepreneur’) in order to settle a bizarre business deal involving horseshoes. Their simple trip to complete the transaction is rocked by the theft of Marian’s bag, which contained their documents and, more importantly, a wad of cash. So they’re off the train and hustling to reach the final destination, making money however they can – playing guitar and singing for donations, enlisting as helpers to a local politician or conning farmers during the peak of an Avian flu outbreak. And all of this, of course, for love – so that Marian can afford to wed his beloved, Veronica.

It’s a road trip/buddy comedy that works hard at portraying a reasonably faithful caricature of society in Moldova. Sometimes it’s overbearing how hard. The timing of events seems set in the mid 00s, but while technology has shaped the way some things work, the undertones are not as different as they should be. Judging by how the story unfolds and the themes poked at, there isn’t that much separating Romania from Moldova, only that the geopolitics exert different gravitational forces on the two.

The force holding the story of Marian and Petro together is that of deception. Everything almost everyone does is aimed at misleading someone in one way or another. What Cobileanski points out well is that we’re not faced with good and bad characters – although one might be inclined to look at Marian for the weak but positive hero of the tale, in contrast to Petro. Yet, both of them engage in the deceits and Cobileanski’s world is only segregated by size: small time crooks, big time crooks and very big time crooks. For all the hassle the protagonists go through, dealing with sums of money that appear significant, only upon meeting with their ‘client’ does scale begin to come into perspective.

The wild, wild East we’re being shown was pretty much the transition phase after the end of communism. It’s ‘doubleplus’ surreal set in Moldova, where the past and the present appear more intertwined. Cobileanski manages, at times, to really capture the irony and the foolishness of life in situational humour. Luckily, I was alone in the cinema and could laugh as hard as I felt like doing. However, there are also several scenes that come across quite flat or overly contrived, while language isn’t used as skillfully as a tool for irony. And not to nitpick, but even a couple of fools like Marian and Petro didn’t have to get off a train leading them to certain cash for a miserly stolen pouch.

All in all though, I’m glad that Afacerea Est is more of what Cobileanski promised with his first films. It’s not perfect, yet it’s good enough and presumably plays as a crazy adventure for someone not familiar with ‘the way things are done’ here.

***

Sour Grapes (2016): Schadenfreude

I don’t even drink wine, so my understanding of the collector’s impulse is bound to be limited. Nonetheless, the themes flowing through Sour Grapes, smoothly prepped in the movie equivalent of a decanter, provide a certain sparkle on the tongue, a deeply flavoured experience with a tinge of Schadenfreude. The latter is essential, as it frames the human impulse behind what is ultimately no more than an astute con.

sour-grapes
There’s a palpable story at the roots of this documentary: Rudy Kurniawan, a skinny, wise-beyond-his-years kind of fellow, appears on the international wine auctioning scene in the early/mid 2000s and becomes a big player at an impressive pace. If there’s one thing that’s universally known about the early/mid 2000s, it’s that they preceded the latter 2000s – hah, just kidding! But not really, for the decade started with the fake excess of the dot-com bubble and then flourished in the fake excess of the housing market bubble. Per chance (or not), Kurniawan’s trajectory does well to parallel these cautionary tales, only that its conclusion is brisk and there were few tears shed about the victims. As one usually does, when it comes to the rich losing out in their Bateman-esque games of self-affirmation and chest thumping.

The fascinating bit lies in the possibility of a fraud existing in a world so tightly strung by expert knowledge. A wine connoisseur has a special kind of fame attached to his or her ability to discern the exceptional from the good. It’s something acquired through years of sophisticated training and a lot of expensive wines. Additionally, as important sums of money are thrown around, it is also the kind of area ripe for pretense. Similarly to, perhaps, the market for art collectors, there will always be people who understand art, historically and aesthetically, and those who collect it for the sheer exercise, be it financial or egotistical. The same applies to wines.

It’s in this contrast that Sour Grapes comes alive. The story is told through a limited collection of archival footage of Kurniawan and present day interviews with people in the business: collectors, sommeliers, wine producers. It paints this canvas of wine as an ultimately simple and beautiful experience, pandering somewhat to Domain Ponsot’s lavishly poetic narrative. Lavish to the point of being hypocritical, even. And it also frames Kurniawan as this endearing character, much liked by those who bought his wines. There’s surprisingly little sourness to the movie, especially for so much money being involved. Yet, that also plays into this idea of the exclusive wine club, where people are so enlightened (and rich), that they can look beyond trifling deceptions worth millions.

So perhaps that’s part of what I didn’t quite like, the neatness of it all, the lack of further prodding. You also get a sense there’s a template for these meta-documentaries, where a deeply ironic situation is framed with lyrical prowess, only to sustain some unnecessary ambiguity about its central character(s). Kurniawan is guilty and a bunch of people were defrauded, even if he might have had to bear the brunt of it.

But there’s also a certain beauty to being caught in such a great deception, because the contrast is so stark. The story sells itself, so the point of the movie was to somehow capture it with the limited footage it had of its lead. Atlas and Rothwell came good and they also managed to leave any sardonic undertones as just that, undertones. Ultimately, even for someone with no taste for wine, I was excited by the end, having sat through this very particular tasting menu of intricate lies. The thought that nothing is quite black and white lingers in the knowledge that thousands of Kurniawan wine bottles are still in wine cellars around the world.

Some real, some fake – and the afterthought that one might not really want to know the truth.

****

Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1981): Pleading Death

Sane people can have the desire to die, it’s an indisputable fact. In arguing why, “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” tries to balance a dispute so personal, that it seems bound to fail. And yet, it does not. Based on Brian Clark’s original television play of 1972 (starring Ian McShane, how random), it was first adapted to a stage play before coming to its 1981 incarnation. The movie was directed by John Badham, better know for Saturday Night Fever (1979) and the Matthew Broderick wannabe Black Mirror episode of a movie, War Games (1983).

wliiaw

We are faced with a story featuring a sculptor who is left paralyzed after a wrecking car accident. His status renders him incapable of being the person he once was and found in the impossibility to reconcile his former self with his current condition, Ken Harrison decides to die.

His quest is, most obviously, a difficult one. The doctors do not support him in his decision and in this debate – doctor::patient – it is where the film conjures the most solid arguments in its plea. Going beyond the usual ethical components of this choice, the film manages to assert a very personal position to the main protagonist, which therefore makes the whole experience one of anguish on a very personal level. And this is where it makes its point: there is no universal justification for death and the world has no right to interfere in the sphere of anyone’s consciousness. Perhaps it is at times overly dramatic and it treats the subject with tantalizing care, but in the end, I felt the film balanced all the facts concerned in a convincing and compelling way, vividly portraying the painful demise of a strong mind in face of the cruelty of destiny. It might seem to take a stance on every man’s right to choose his fate, but in the matter at hand (whether death by will is right or wrong) it emits no absolute messages.

Beyond everything, Richard Dreyfuss (the reason for straying to the obscure 80’s) sustains an authentic feeling of intellectual pain in his convincing performance. And it is only in pain and suffering that we can look into ourselves to understand how much we are willing to bear and what makes us be. Perhaps I don’t agree suicide is the best solution, but then again I am on the other side of the river, where things seem filthy green, rather than nothing at all. Easy for me to talk. We are so alone in death and pain, that nobody can truly claim to understand us.

P.S. It’s also got a high 1:75 on my recently conceived cult status meter. So, in the least, it makes you spew some thoughts out.

****

Originally published on imdb (14.07.2007)

Today’s Special (2009): 1001 Recipes for Clichés

A sub-genre that has come into its own during the last decade or so is related to movies about food. Today’s Special was a bit of an avantgardist piece, followed by the likes of Chef (2014), The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) and Burnt (2015), to count a few off the top of my head. It’s most closely related to the Helen Mirren flick with Journey in the title, but actually fails to get a grip on itself for long enough to rise to even the average standards imposed there. So yes, I was disappointed.

todays-special

The story – stop me if anything sounds familiar – involves an Indian sous-chef, Samir, who is passed up on a promotion due to his excessive rigor, which arguably killed the improvisational magic required of a chef. So Samir decides to quit and contemplates traveling to Europe, to widen his repertoire. Before leaving, a quick visit to the parents, in particular his father, is in order. Surprisingly, or not, the family own the most run down Indian restaurant imaginable and the father is deeply disappointed by Samir’s life choices. His mother, meanwhile, is busy sending  him wife profiles from a dating website specializing in Indian couples. As the father suffers a bit of a heart attack, Samir is thrust into taking care of a dying business which is turned around by a previous chance encounter with Akbar, a taxi driver – chef – all around exceptional person. So Akbar comes in with his infinite wisdom of how cooking should come from here (the head) – here (the heart) – here (the stomache) and a little bit from here (well…). And Samir, who seems clueless as to cooking any Indian food, learns to reconnect with his roots. The platitudes and cliches just keep rolling, but I wouldn’t want to spoil all of them for you.

While I hate this kind of stereotyping, with “the spiritual Easterner” at the top of my list, it’s not even the film’s greatest fault. The first problem is that the important characters are unlikable. The second is that Samir’s lack of initiative is incomprehensible in the context. There’s no way any chef that half loves his job could have taken over a restaurant like the one portrayed here and remain so passive to how it looked, how it was run. The third is that the (happy) resolution put forward comes about without the lead having much merit in it at all. The implicit fourth is that the story elements don’t feel like they fall into place, but rather are forced to make up this journey of personal rediscovery. And lastly, there aren’t even any glorious shots of mouth watering food to take your mind off all the other incoherences.

Perhaps some of my complaints pertain to how I can’t accept the feel-good recipe. But there are a bunch of similar movies out there that do a good job in putting together a happy-go-lucky story which makes sense. Or at least convince you to suspend your disbelief. There are a few moments when Today’s Special manages to entertain, but they are too thinly spread. And, perhaps paradoxically, I did enjoy Aasif Mandvi’s dry portrayal of a run-down Samir, with the small caveat that it wasn’t fit in carrying the movie.

There must be stuff to like about David Kaplan’s second (and as of now last) feature length movie, yet I utterly failed to enjoy it. Sure, it digests easily, but there’s gotta be more to it than that.

*

Pozitia Copilului (2013): People at its Heart

Upon its release, I happened to catch a screening of the film (English title: Child’s Pose) attended by the director and some of the actors, followed by a short Q&A. This sort of effort is part of a greater plan to bring appraised Romanian films closer to the Romanian audience, while also creating an association with the people responsible for their success, more often than not “against the odds”.

pozitia copilului.jpg
The story is set around a pampered man-child who ends up committing  a bit of involuntary vehicular manslaughter and his mother who works towards sorting out his predicament. What sets Netzer’s film apart from some of the other recent Romanian works of cinema is its sardonic humor which works best when it’s aimed at the characters and not at some of the pervasive practices of society. I’ve personally always felt that personal stories, meaning character stories, always came in second to some grand piece of social commentary, usually on the communist background of the country, in most of the acclaimed Romanian cinema of the 21st century. Not to say that such commentary lacks relevance, but there’s just more to modern life than its dark red heritage.

Of course, Pozitia Copilului is deeply rooted in antics which one could call symptomatic of Romania and as a means of characterization, the backdrop is justifiable. Occasionally though, when certain aspects come across a bit too hard pressed, they do a disservice to the otherwise excellent balance of a difficult story. This in no way undermines the beautifully detailed portrait of the film’s main character, a highly controlling, bossy, arrogant, mean-spirited mother. Her faults go quite a way to being redeemed by the passionate dedication with which she tries to protect her son, if one were to count such moral trade-offs. The ambivalence is so finely portrayed by Luminita Gheorghiu that both the moments of involuntary humor and the moments of pure drama work just as well.

It’s ironic that Mrs. Gheorghiu also played in “Moartea Domnului Lazarescu”, a film I found to be close at heart with “Pozitia Copilului”, in that it relies heavily on a complex central character and its critique is subtle, yet scathing. I’d go so far as to say that these kind of films, while still dominated by a type of post-modernist bleakness, can lead a shift of focus to the greater importance of characters as individuals in Romanian movies, not only as symbol stand-ins.

****

Originally published on imdb.