I always look forward to the Chicago European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center every year – this one is their 19th annual, and it runs from March 4 – 31.
In his 2012 film, Everybody In Our Family, director Radu Jude expressed the ardent devotions that can be generated within a family unit while also demonstrating our warring passions’ capacity to rip that unit into inconsolable shreds. His landscape is much larger in Aferim! (Romania, 2015). Set in 1835 Wallachia (the southern territory which eventually merged with Transylvania and Moldavia to create modern-day Romania), Aferim! follows Costandin (Teodor Corban), a bellicose, God-fearing constable whose latest orders involve recapturing a Gypsy slave whom has run away from his boyar (wealthy landowner) master. (Arriving in Eastern and Central Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Romani people [Gypsies] have had as nasty and chequered a history as practically any other civilization on Earth, and, at this particular time, Gypsy slavery was standard commerce.) Costandin is accompanied by his teenaged son Ionita (Mihai Comănoiu), whom is being trained in law-enforcement, nationalist pride, the subjugation of women and institutional racism by his self-described Tough-But-Fair father. Costandin delivers some gasp-inducing oratory on many things, and exercises his authoritarian prerogatives with brutal license, but he’s regularly bested in ignorance and venom by many others the two encounter along the way (most notably by a Catholic priest with little use for anyone outside of his tiny parish). Like Jude’s earlier film, there’s a very slender boundary between black comedy and flat-out vilification, and he has an unerring sense of how that line is situated. Marius Panduru’s cinematography is in glorious 35mm black-and-white, and Jude draws not only from the dark political strains of his countrymen like Corneliu Porumboiu, Cristi Puiu and Radu Muntean (whose new film is here at EUFF as well), but from the larger moral palates of directors like František Vláčil and Luis Buñuel. It’s fairly strong historical medicine, and I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone (Romanians, I’m sure, will mine it for far more humor than Westerners will). But those with a high tolerance for low behavior will appreciate it as much as I did. Highly recommended.
“Aferim!” screens on Sunday, March 6th at 5:00 pm and Wednesday, March 9th at 8:00 pm.
Director Alberto Rodríguez Marshland (La Isla Minima) (Spain, 2014) emulates a number of recent policiers where the ontological foundation of corruption and decay in a place almost overwhelms the consequences of any particular crime that’s being investigated. Corrupt locals in a small town, corrupt regional enforcement officials and even ex-enforcers for Francisco Franco weave in and out of our story here. A serial killer who isn’t a particularly good agent for a white-slavery pipeline he’s happened upon leaves a grisly trail behind him that serious-minded family-man investigator Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) and older, veteran detective Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) must survey and solve, with little if any help from the region’s larger community. David Fincher and True Detective are the easy comparisons to make, but the film(s) it reminded me of most was the U.K. Channel Four Red Riding trilogy from 2009, which examined the communities underlying the Yorkshire Ripper murders of the late seventies and early eighties.
Written by Rodriguez and Rafael Cobos, and admirably shot (digitally) by the prolific Alex Catalán, this film draws liberally from the mood and structures of those previous works, but Rodriguez’ strong stylistic hand keeps things uniquely compelling. It’s my favorite film here so far, and I fervently hope this gets a more widespread theatrical run in the near future. It’s superb.
“Marshland” screens on Sunday, March 6th at 5:00 pm and Monday, March 7th at 7:45 pm.