On the FIPRESCI Awards

in 7th Sofia International Film Festival

by Blanka Elekes Szentagotai

Even though the Sofia International Film Festival offered an international competititon program for the first time in its existence, nobody had any reason to complain about the truly high-quality selection of eligible films. The FIPRESCI jury made its decision after watching a twelve-film selection that included several films from the Eastern-Central-European region as well as contenders from Iran, the UK and the US.

The jury awarded its prize to Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s debut feature Occident (West) „for the sensitive portrayal of the difficulties, illusions and joys faced by the young generation in post communist Romania that provokes response with a wide international audience.” The film is a well thought-through production from the young Romanian filmmaker who has worked in several fields, also as a journalist, before enrolling in the Drama and Film Academy in Bucharest. No doubt he himself also experienced many of the difficulties the characters in his film face who all dream of the dream life the fabulous West has to offer but never make it as far as the next town. Luci and his fiancee, Sorina are suddenly left homeless and visit the girl’s father’s grave in the hope of spiritual guidance. When a bottle unexpectedly falls from the sky right onto Luci’s head, the sign, no doubt, has been given, but the young man needs to be taken to the hospital. Jerome, a Frenchman who happens to be nearby helps Sorina with the task and the girl sees the meeting of the Frenchman as the only escape from her dead-end life. When Luci realizes that she has instantly moved in with Jerome, gets a job as a ”human bottle” in a beer promotion in order to win her back. While working at the local mall he meets Mihaela who has been left at the altar by her fiance and now works as a walking telephone commercial…

Mungiu’s screenplay and the film’s biggest virtue is that it doesn’t go in the expected direction. The production is built up on an extremely clever structure being divided into three different parts that are connected to each other as well as being an individual story each. The director very smartly doesn’t give away all the relations present in the film right away but presents them with an intuitive talent, always a new detail but never too much. The story runs on different levels but the strong directing never lets it get out of hand. The actors are also strongly directed and special praise should be given to the young, award-winner Alexandru Papadopol in the role of Luci and Coca Bloos as Mihaela’s mother who desperately seeks a well-off husband for her daughter.

Just like most Eastern-European productions Occident also has a local feel to it, some things can more easily be understood by the Romanian audience (such as the license plate on one of the cars that spells PCR, once the abbreviation for the Romanian Communist Party). But the case of Occident being a Romanian film doesn’t stop it from being a most enjoyable production to watch for all audiences, especially those from this part of the world where most people have at least once in their lifetime dreamt of going West to pursue dreams of prosperity and happiness.

Even though Bulgarian directors Ivailo Hristov and Ljudmil Todorov’s Emigrants lacks the strength that makes Occident a multi-award winning production, the three actors playing its main characters give powerful performances in the story that investigates the spiritual emigration of young people in Bulgaria. Deyan Donkov, Valeri Yordanov and Ivan Radoev were awarded a FIPRESCI special mention „for their gripping leading performances.”

Blanka Elekes Szentagotai