Thursday, September 25, 2014

Miss Christina (orig. Domnisoara Christina) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing listing*

CineEuropa (S. Dobroiu) review (D. Deskins) review (R. Filipescu) review* (I Mares) review*

Miss Christina (orig. Domnisoara Christina) [2013] [IMDb] []* (screenplay and directed by Alexandru Maftei [IMDb] []* based on the novella [Eng] [Esp] [Fr] [Rom] by Mircea Eliade [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]* [IMDb]) is an _elegant_  ROMANIAN HORROR MOVIE that played recently as part of the 6th Annual Romanian Cultural Marathon organized by the Chicago based Romanian Cultural Exchange (ROCX) at Facet's Multimedia in Chicago.

Along with most of the American Servites of my generation, I knew of Mircea Eliade [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]* [IMDb] for his scholarly work at the University of Chicago as a true giant in the field of Comparative Religion [Amazon].  I honestly did not know prior to my coming to the above-mentioned Romanian cultural event that in his younger years, back in Romania, Eliade was actually well-respected in Romania as a novelist.  Indeed until hearing the introduction of to this film presented by Dr. Thomas Pavel PhD [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]* another Romanian born professor who's made his home at the University of Chicago, it did not even occur to me that Romania's _very rich_ supernatural / folkloric tradition could have actually served to inspire an intellectual like Eliade to pursue a scholarly career in "comparative religion" ;-).

Dr. Pavel informed those of us present for the screening who were "non-Romanian" ;-) that the supernatural entity in the current film would be called a moroi [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]*.  Tapping the shoulder of the Romanian 20-year-old sitting next to me, I asked him how one would spell it, and then I happily looked-up moroi on wikipedia with my smartphone and found out that:  

A moroi  is a type of vampire or ghost in Romanian folklore.  Moroi are often associated with other figures in Romanian folklore, such as strigoi (another type of vampire), vârcolac (werewolf), or pricolici (werewolf). Moroi are also known as mortal vampires, whereas strigoi are immortal vampires. 

The wikipedia article continued that it was thought that the etymology of moroi came from the Old Slavonic word "moro" meaning nightmare.  It occurred to me then that the Romanian moroi is actually similar to a nočni můra [cz.wikip]* which is both Czech for a nightmare and envisioned as a ghost / undead creature (that I always thought was "like a Czech vampire") that my uncle Zdeněk (after whom I'm named ;-) USED TO SCARE US WITH when he would tell us ghost stories when I was young. (A Czech "nočni můra," is envisioned in the Czech conception as a giant ugly moth, that would come at night, settle on one's chest, paralyze one and, yes, at times suck one's blood).

Well, in Romanian folklore, or certainly in THIS story, the moroi in question was certainly NOT "a giant ugly moth" ;-) but rather the very beautiful Miss Christina (played by Anastasia Dumitrescu [IMDb] []*) who "died young" in somewhat mysterious circumstances at the turn of the century.

At the time of the story then, some 20-years later, she comes back, always at night, to try to seduce her niece Sanda's (played by Ioana Anastasia Anton [IMDb] []*) fiancé Egor (played by Tudor Istodor [IMDb] []*) who, a dashing young artist/professor from Bucharest, Sanda had brought home to the country manner house, where she and her family was from, to meet her mother (played by Maia Morgenstern [IMDb] []*). 

Sanda's mother and Cristina had been sisters.  Christina had died just before Sanda had been born.  So Sanda did not even know her except for a very beautiful portrait of her, made just before her untimely death, a portait that hung quite prominently if sadly in a place of honor in the manor house's main hall.

Well, Cristina's life had been cut short just as it was about to (really) begin.  Sanda's bringing Egor, perhaps the first very eligible bachelor to pass through the halls of the house since her untimely death, proved to disturb the still somewhat somber setting in the house.  And Christina, "still around," certainly "in memory" but as it becomes ever more apparent, also "otherwise" ... who had died 20 years before just as she was going to "enter into society" ... apparently, sees Egor and ... well, "wants" him ;-).  Much ensues ...

When the Eliade first penned this story in the 1930s, it was apparently denounced by the Romania's more conservative voices of the time as "porn."  I don't think that the story is exactly appropriate for young viewers/readers.  But film itself, which features but one very elegant topless scene showing the actress playing Christina's right or left breast (the other is covered by her hair) feels like it's played-out inside a belle-époque turn-of-the-20th-century Renoir painting.   

So this is a dramatization of a very elegant Romanian romance novel with yes a touch of the supernatural at its edges.  As such, Eliade's novella presented here (translated into all kinds of languages and into two films, this one actually being the second, the first being made almost immediately after the fall of the Communists in Romania) is IMHO well worth looking-up.   It could come to "raise the bar" again for this "Gothic horror" genre.


Skyping to check with my uncle back in Prague, a Czech noční můra [cz.wikip]* (related etymologically to the Romanian moroi [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]* discussed above) is not in the Czech conception a vampire.  Yes, in the (local South-Central Bohemian) conception, it's a big ugly moth that lands on one's chest, immobilizing (and hence terrorizing) one, but a blood-sucking vampire in Czech is an upír [cz.wikip].*  Just to keep things "on the level." ;-) 

 * Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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