Redefinition of Accepted Boundaries

in 16th New Horizons International Film Festival, Wroclaw

by Dejan Petrovic

Adrian Sitaru’ new movie Illegitimate (Ilegitim) can be seen as a typical product of contemporary Romanian cinematography from the last decade. It was shown in the “Panorama” program of the 16th edition of “T-Mobile New Horizons” festival, held from 21st until 31st July in the city Wroclaw,  Poland. Its huis-clos atmosphere and minimalist approach are among the many artistic and intellectual pretensions this family saga shares with Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration (Festen), placing it however firmly in the local Romanian context.

Thus the routine Anghelescu family gathering around the table does not imply the dramatic events that are to follow soon after. The oldest son Cosma suddenly discovers how authoritarian their pater familias Victor was back in the days of the notorious Ceausescu’s regime – which ended in 1989 – when he was passionately enforcing the abortion ban and the fierce punishment for those who performed it, as well as for the women who had it performed on them. Furthermore, clues are revealed that he worked for the infamous Romanian secret service “Securitate.” And what made things worse, it is acknowledged that he has never mentioned a word to his family members about his past.

No doubt, the recent Romanian past and more particularly, the strict ban on abortion during the Ceausescu’s years, is a rather delicate topic, which takes centre stage in Cristian Mungiu’s Golden Palm-awarded feature 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile) at the 2007 Cannes festival. This topic raises the crucial question whether it is at all possible to interpret the overall understanding and general context of the past exclusively from the viewpoint of modern contemporary understanding and under entirely new circumstances? Therefore, we would argue that the fierce clash within the Anghelescu family results from differences in views and attitudes, brought on by the generation gap, and complicated by the emotional tensions, generated by the fact that not all of the Anghelescu children feel they have been treated equally well by their father, especially after the death of their mother.

Moreover, Victor uses the fact that the twins Romeo and Sasha came to the world unwanted by their mother, as a decisive argument in his pro-abortion stance during the debate. What comes next however amounts to an incomparably powerfully scandalous revelation – the twins Romeo and Sasha have not only been engaging in regular sexual relations, coming from real and deep mutual love – whatever that means – but soon Sasha finds out that she is pregnant: and not with her official boyfriend but with her twin brother!

Exciting short-cuts additionally stress the dynamism of Sitaru’s narrative, thus deliberately overwriting the discussion of known and acceptable boundaries of love with indirect debate about the unbearable lightness of judging the others for things we would never judge ourselves about! Thus, by revealing the eternal dichotomy between theory and practice, the director revaluates the consistency of both positions: the daughter explains her decision to abort the child with the unnatural way of its conception and her own youth, while the father is now more than ready to revoke his strict pro-life attitude, insisting that she must have an abortion, because hers is such a unique case! Hence Sitaru plays up the variance in attitudes to the same issue, oscillating between arrogance, inconsequentiality, and hypocrisy, depending whether the issue concerns us or others!  In other words, in addition to being a matter of obvious hypocrisy, it is also a matter of responsibility.

In a surprising, yet no less absurd, and surely weird happy-ending, the Anghelescu family mends its broken ties by taking the shocking — but unanimous! – decision that Sasha should keep the child! The incestuous emotional component is made even more emphatic by subtle details like the graffiti on the twin’s room wall, reading “Bessarabia is Romania.” The film decisively signs off with a bizarre, almost perverse family photo, which points to the numerous issues this film touches upon, one of them being the housing crisis. It forces many generations into sometime a lifelong cohabitation, thus deepening the generational gap and exacerbating the clash. Illegitimate also opens barely visible, but doubtlessly extant frontiers between the justified, the moral, the desirable, the accepted and the legal, and leaves to the spectator the dilemma as to whether these frontiers are mandatory or arbitrary, eternal or provisional.

Edited by Christina Stojanova