Monday, March 7, 2016

Aferim! [2015]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars w. Expl)

IMDb listing listing
CineMagia,ro listing* (Andreea) review* (C. Rogozanu) review* (A. Serghescu) review* (H. Varga) review* (J. Škoda) review* (C. Muñoz) review* (A. Wilkenson) review
Slant Magazine (J. Cataldo) review
The Hollywood Reporter (S. Dalton) review
Way Too Indie (M. Nazarewycz) review

Aferim! [2015] [IMDb] [CEu] []* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Radu Jude [IMDb] [CEu] along with Florin Lăzărescu [IMDb] [CEu]) is a simply _SPECTACULAR_ and at times arguably SHOCKING ;-) half-serious / half-meant-in-jest (though arguably TRUE to life) ROMANIAN 19th century "period piece" / "Western" (er "Eastern") that played recently at the 19th (2016) Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

Honestly, call it a mashup of Clint Eastwood's _classic_ "spaghetti Western"  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly [1966] with Russian director Aleksey German's far more serious _life's work_, the ponderous 3 hour (!) B&W SciFi-ish / Medieval Epic Hard to be a God [2013].   Co-produced with CZECH and BULGARIAN financial support / participation, there will be some who'll recognize shades of the Czechoslovak (Communist Era...) Medieval Epic Marketa Lazarova [1967] present as well.  (In any case, the much shorter (1hr45m) film here STUNNINGLY WORTHILY served as Romania's submission to the 88th (2016) Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film).

The story plays out in the hinterlands of Wallachia, Romania circa 1835.  Two "Chetniks" that is, then Romanian / Wallachian "law men", father and son, Constandin and Ionita (both played magnificently by Teodor Corban [IMDb] []* and Mihai Comănoiu [IMDb] []*) set out on horseback ("Texas Ranger style...") to _re-chain_ (rather than "unchain" -- think Django Unchained [2012]) a fugitive gypsy slave named Carfin (played by Cuzin Toma [IMDb] []*) who "made a run for it" after being caught sleeping with Sultana (played by Mihaela Sirbu [IMDb] []*) the wife of his master, the local "Boyar" (petty nobleman) Iordache Cîndescu (played by Alexandru Dabija [IMDb] []*).

Now why would Carfin be so stupid to sleep with his Master's wife?  Well remember, he was _a slave_ and may not have had all that much choice in the matter (Readers here remember the dilemma that the Biblical Jacob's son Joseph found himself in - Gen 39:7).  Still, whatever may or may not have happened in the Boyar's household, the _objective_ "fact of the matter" was that the Gypsy slave Carfin "had run off" and so lawmen Constable Constandin and his son Ionita were called upon, warrant in hand, to find him and bring him back.  And so they set out to do exactly that ... 

... and in the process, they canvas a fair amount of rural Wallachia in search of "their man."  Much ensues ... Among that ensues is that good ole dad Constandin DOES NOT SHUT UP ;-) ... He just keeps talkin' and talkin' spouting all kinds of "homegrown" (and often utterly APPALLING ;-) "wisdom" trying to impart on his teenage son, who he's taken along in good part "to help make a man out of him" ;-).

What to Viewers becomes increasingly (and increasingly _unbearably_) APPALLING is the UTTER LACK OF CRITICAL THINKING DISPLAYED by Constandin (and the others that the two meet along the way).  He's just telling his son "the way things are" ;-).  And occasionally he gets "help," notably FROM A RURAL PRIEST (played appallingly if apparently with straight-on sincerity by Alexandru Bindea [IMDb] []*) whose cart the two help pull out of a roadside ditch.

After helping said priest with said cart, Constandin asks him: "Good Father, I've been meaning to ask someone like you this question for a long time, and since I'm trying to teach my son the ways of the world, you could help me out: ARE GYPSIES EVEN HUMAN?"

The 'good Priest' answers: "Yes, but they are 'children of Ham' (from Noah's "day" cf Gen 9:22...) distinguished by being _darker_ ... besides everyone knows that Gypsies originally come from Egypt (!?) ... and thus worthy, indeed required, to be _enslaved_."  "So Gypsies ARE human"   "Yes, BUT JEWS ARE NOT..."

Here the priest goes into A LONG AND APPALLING explanation SOMEHOW CONFUSING _JEWS_ WITH "THE NEPHELLIM" (the "Sons of God" referred to in Biblical account of Noah - Genesis 6-9 - ... who SUPPOSEDLY existed BEFORE THE FLOOD and CENTURIES BEFORE Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (reference to whom only begins with Genesis 12) the latter one finally getting the title/second name "Israel" from God (Gen 32:29).

The priest's explanation IS APPALLING (and honestly DOES NOT MAKE SENSE) but IS REFLECTIVE _OF THE TIME_.   Indeed, EVERYTHING that the "good Priest" says from this point onward -- "My sons, this is how it is: The Russians drink a lot, the Hungarians eat a lot, the Turks like a lot of women, the Italians are liars, the Armenians are lazy, the Serbs are untrustworthy, the English (yes Readers even the English) like to think a lot, the Germans like to smoke a lot ..." -- is APPALLING (and INTENDED TO SOUND TO US AS APPALLING) but ... THAT'S THE WAY IT WAS (or at least the way the film-makers _present the time_) ... NO ONE THOUGHT CRITICALLY and EVERYTHING WAS "RECEIVED KNOWLEDGE."

And indeed, Constandin _gratefully_ thanks "the good Priest" for sharing his wisdom with him AND HIS SON... and they proceed onward in their search for the runaway slave who they're called to bring back to his quite angry master.

Was what they were doing right?  In our eyes, of course not.  But to them, it's _just the way it was_ AND NO ONE THOUGHT TO ASK _WHY_ or IF IT _WAS_ RIGHT.

As such, THIS IS A _TRULY REMARKABLE FILM_ (!!).  It is a one hour and forty-five minute PASSAGE INTO THE MIDDLE AGES and afterwards, we get to _go home_ ;-).  And in the closing credits Viewers are reminded that _much_ of the dialogue was GLEANED OUT OF ACTUAL HISTORICAL RECORDS OF THE TIME.

Yes, it is _shocking_ but we are reminded "where we came from" ... and if we're surprised as to why things are even today the way they are ... we're reminded of how it was.

Great film!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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