Breaking the Circle or: How Escape Begins at Home

in 17th Sofia International Film Festival

by Alexandra Zawia

When we hear glasses clinking and see the group of friends gathered outside cheerfully kissing and wishing each other Happy New Year, instead of being invigorated, we feel benumbing cold with Radu, the protagonist in Paul Negoescu’s film A Month In Thailand (O luna in Thailanda).

As Radu (Andrei Mateiu) maneuvers his way through the crowd, smiling politely and mechanically returning the required pecks on cheeks, we would like to escape with him right there, but it is not time yet, and it may never be. Radu will break up with his girlfriend Adina (Ioana Anastasia Anton) in a few moments, mainly because he wants to correct a past mistake when he broke up with another girl who he wants to win back now.

Negoescu’s sensitive and vivid writing adds freshness to the tried and true New Year’s Eve film topos and a subtle cyclic structure. In a few small deft strokes, Negoescu succeeds in capturing entire personalities, effectively pointing out essential details. This creates an immersive pull, and we swiftly move from character to character, adopting their perspectives as a silent onlooker, as we listen to their conversations. We become as much Radu himself as the group of friends or family around him. We have been that guy stuck in a relationship, have been the girlfriend who loves him more than he does in return, we have been the hurt ex-partner, and the hurting ex-lover. We have been each of those spontaneous, drunk or uptight individuals whom Radu encounters that night, and we will be again.

However, unlike the Nouvelle Vague, these filmmakers never made any claims to being a group, or a collective movement, but rather have drawn from a common source of being in the same place and time, dealing with the same historical, social and cultural roots.  Unsurprisingly, a great number of those films are set in the late 1980s, towards the end of the Ceausescu regime, and explore themes of liberty and resilience under communist dictatorship. Others are set in modern-day Romania and delve into the ways the transition to free-market capitalism and democracy shaped Romanian society after 1989.  Meanwhile, many of the younger generation, brought up in a dilapidated educational system only to come of age in the midst of recession, unemployment and a devastating national drain of intelligence, talent and manpower, find these films too bleak and static.

In the larger picture of the Romanian New Wave, distinguished by a fairly common aesthetics based on a realist, at times almost documentary, austere and minimalist style, these young filmmakers like Neguescu (27 years old), leave us with  the unanswered question of how much their style is the result of economic constraints and a lack of infrastructure. Neguescu who realized A Month In Thailand with a budget of € 600.000, considers his film “more connected to the present-day reality” of Romania, which also brings about an obvious discontentment with a governmental policy that strips artists of the infrastructure that supports them. Negoescu calls this “a form of damaging suppression, dictating what kind of a work we are allowed to produce”.  Despite a labor force that facilitates cheap co-productions, since there is no trade union or legislation to encourage producers to realize their projects in Romania, he says. “It’s difficult and expensive to obtain something as simple as a shooting authorization for a scene in the street.”

Even more so, the characters in his film are also individuals in a country and in a society that have undergone a dramatic change whose effects cannot yet be defined. Years of dictatorship have left their traces — and have left a society still somewhat submissive to routine and escapist desires.

With the last shot of A Month In Thailand, we not only realize that there might not be an happy ending; we also know that (Radu’s personal) history will repeat itself if he keeps running within a circle.

Edited by Eithne O’Neill