"The Happiest Girl in the World": Happiness in Transition

in 13rd Sofia International Film Festival

by Tonci Valentic

One of the most interesting and prominent features of the Sofia international film festival is its focus on Balkan societies and cultures. The festival does not merely promote Balkan cinematography by showing most recent movies and projects from the region, but through its international, regional and national programs also offers an insider perspective on various problems which neighboring societies have to cope with. Among the films presented in the main competition (as well as in the Balkan and Bulgarian competition programs) there were many fascinating stories, interpreting from a native cultural perspective the social transformations, resulting from the challenging economic and political changes of the last two post-socialist decades. It is worth mentioning that these movies are made predominantly by young and promising directors, who do not hesitate to tackle the serious issues, mentioned above, and challenge the cultural status quo. Among those, one film stood out for its innovative, aesthetically appealing and narrative inciting approach, and was therefore awarded by the FIPRESCI jury as the best first feature-length fiction movie in the international competition.

The Happiest Girl in the World (Cea mai fericita fata din lume) directed by Radu Jude, tells a simple story about an 18-year old girl, Delia (Andreea Bosneag) from a small Romanian town. She wins a brand new car in a promotional campaign of a beverage company. Accompanied by her parents, she goes to Bucharest to appear in a commercial for the same company, which is cunningly using the young and inexperienced country girl as a proof that anyone can be a winner. While all goes well in the beginning of the day, in the course of the shooting a conflict gradually arises between the girl and her parents (Violeta Haret and Vasile Muraru): she wants to keep the car, but the parents insist on her selling it and giving them the money to start a small family business. The argument ends on a seemingly happy note: After a long and exhausting bargaining, it is agreed that the girl would sell the car, but keep a small portion of the money, while the parents would get the rest. Everyone seems happy with this solution, which, as it turns out, cannot be further from reality.

One of the most touching elements in this movie rests precisely in its straightforwardness. The simple and ostensibly unexciting story about the making of a promotional video unexpectedly reveals many different layers of the post-socialist reality and its myriad of problems. For example, the family arrives in Bucharest in their old Dacia, while the trophy car, made by the same company, symbolizes the shift to a new era of affluence. Radu Jude uses the brief conversations during the recesses between the takes also as discrete and subtle commentaries on the differences between the new and the old times. The objective shots from a still camera position seem to always portray the main characters from a certain distance. Thus, construed as a neutral observer, the viewer is purposefully denied any emotional engagement even with the most intense scenes of the heated family quarrel.

Oscillating between bitterness and humor, seriousness and irony, The Happiest Girl in the World manages to present a very plain story from an unusually multi-faced social perspective, revealing the contrast between the booming capital and the poor countryside; between the new demands of advertising and old habits, as well as between the parents, used to working hard in order to survive and their girl, who is forced to give up on her dreams… These complexities of a society, where a new car is the ultimate symbol of the new life and prosperity, underscore the ultimate irony of the film’s ending vis-à-vis its title. Fortunately, the director has not fallen into the trap of re-producing or affirming stereotypes: his objective and distant narration ensures a touch of authenticity, essential for the main narrative frame of the family fight as an utterly realistic reflection of the complexities of contemporary Romanian society. Jude’s visual and narrative vocabulary is very succinct and concise, but the effect is so powerful and convincing that the viewer is deeply touched by the story of the young girl’s frustrated dreams due to circumstances beyond the scope of family issues.