Keeping Vigil By Thomas Rothschild

in 11st Geneva Festival Tous Ecrans

by Thomas Rothschild

In past years some of the most interesting films to be release are those that are biographical accounts from men and woman coming from different countries and cultures. The latest of these is from Ruxandra Zenide, the 30 year-old director of Ryna, this year’s FIPRESCI winner at the festival Cinema Tout Ecran in Geneva. Zenide was born in Bucharest, studied at the renowned FAMU in Prague and now lives in Geneva. Ryna is her first feature film and it is a work of astonishing maturity and intelligence. It tells the story of a sixteen year old girl – Ryna that is – living in a small Romanian village in the middle of nowhere. Her constantly drunk father, who would have preferred a son to a daughter, beats her now and then. He works at an outdated petrol station and repairs broken down motor cars for a living. If necessary he and his daughter make the cars break down. The village’s young postman is in love with Ryna; the lord mayor tries to seduce her and promises her father protection, hoping he will hold his mouth when he eventually rapes her. But Ryna falls in love with a young doctor from Switzerland who has come to Romania for his research.

This is a depressing picture although there are optimistic scenes in between. The great thing about Ryna is the way it portrays an individual woman – Ryna is played by the overwhelming Doroteea Petre – and at the same time gives a vivid impression of the state of a country and a society. Whoever might have thought it was communism that kept Romania in a mess will be convinced that little has changed since capitalism was installed. Marius Panduru is in charge of the sensitive camera work. The film is also convincing because of its impeccable timing. It looks at its characters with patience. It is a good example of the European film art that is becoming more and more valuable under the dominant aesthetics of Hollywood. One might even speculate about a tradition of the sixties that is still alive and taught at FAMU. But another film of the Geneva festival, Molly’s Way by Emily Atef, shows astonishing parallels to Ryna. Emily Atef is of French and Iranian origin, lives in Berlin, and Molly’s Way, also a first feature, taking place in Poland with the main character coming from Ireland. There seems to be hope for European cinema after all.