Women, I Love You?

in 20th Transilvania International Film Festival, Cluj-Napoca

by Jean-Max Méjean

Impeccable in its setup and organization, the International Cluj Film Festival presented to the Fipresci jury, among other films, a set of 12 Romanian feature films. Apart from the almost permanent presence of pigeons in the air, they all had one thing in common, being the countenance of the woman in the way Romanian cinema perceives it. Cinema often offers a beautiful analysis of society through its images and the stories it tells us. In the panorama we were offered, we can say that women do not benefit from this: they are either completely liberated, using the camera lens to finally offer nothing more than an eroticized, but not erotic, society; or, they are absent or harmful.

This is the first occurrence for Toni & Friends (Toni & prietenii sai, 2020) by Ion Indolean, a young Romanian director, who offers the portrait of a woman director and her team in search of a certain Mr. Everyone, who could be called Toni and who has nothing to say. Is this how men live? As for Bogdan Theodor Olteanu with Mia Misses Her Revenge (Mia isi rateaza razbunarea, 2020), he does not offer anything else but a portrait of a young woman who wants revenge on her boyfriend by making a porn video to make him jealous, but does not succeed. Is this the cynical romanticism of modern times?

In Unidentified (Neidentificat, 2020), directed by Bogdan George Apetri, who received the Fipresci Jury Prize, the woman only appears in Chinese shadows as she is the center of an evil plot by a husband who manages to get rid of her. And finally, in Otto the Barbarian (Otto Barbarul, 2020), a rare film directed by a woman, Ruxandra Ghitescu paints a rather desperate portrait of contemporary youth who love each other through the screens and whose feminine pastime par excellence seems to be suicide! Even under the guise of humor, the portrait of the woman is hardly more brilliant with Andrei Hutuleac’s #dogpoopgirl (2021) which portrays a poor woman who is being lynched by social networks and television because she did not pick up the vomit of her dog in the subway. Admittedly, schoolboy humor is to be taken to the third degree, but that says a lot about the condition of women in general, and current society in particular.

Another female director, Andra Tarara, in a moving documentary in which she converses face to face with her father, attempts to show what schizophrenia is and how she was able to help her father by fulfilling his dream of becoming a filmmaker. Thus, Us against us (Noi împotriva noastrã, 2020) is a kind of Electra Complex. And Handra Hera, with The Things We Hide in Silence (În mijlocul meu, vocea, 2021), tells us about the primal cry taught by a French teacher, which allows a young mother to finally be able to dialogue with her hyper authoritarian two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

The search for the father figure, being very important this year in this section, is brilliantly achieved in Andrei Dascalescu’s Holy Father (2020). While his wife is about to give birth, the director goes to find on Mount Athos his father who became a monk. Triumphant motherhood versus repentant fatherhood? In the contemplative and almost Angelopoulian The Windseeker (Căutătorul de vânt, 2020), Mihai Sofronea shows us a man about to die taking refuge near the sea where he falls in love with the niece of the man who took him in. The young woman seems to know only one thing, cooking, and he will run away from this love to spare her his death.

Finally, to end this panorama which presents a beautiful portrait of the evolution of current Romanian society, three films directed by men show little or almost no women at all on the screen. In Eugen Jebeleanu’s beautiful and well-awarded film, Poppy Field (2020), the only women visible are the absent mother’s messenger sister and a Christian shrewd defender of family rights, in a cinema that shows 120 beats per minute (2017). A film of men, just like that of Dragos Hanciu, The Man and His Shadow (Omul cu umbra, 2021), a vibrant and living tribute to his photography teacher on his retirement. In the third film, directed by Daniel Sandu, The Father Who Moves Mountains (Tata muta muntii, 2021), no drawing is needed, for the title is explicit: the man will fight to the end to save his son, while the mother is a tearful woman who can only say prayers.

Women are still a little behind, and we seem far from the 50/50 imposed by certain diktats of the profession. This year, even at the Cannes Film Festival, which prides itself on respecting these quotas, women were strangely absent. The jury did award the Palme d’Or to a film directed by a woman, but for what strange and mysterious reason in fact?

Jean-Max Méjean
Edited by Yael Shuv