Romania/ Croatia/Czech Republic/ Luxemburg/Great Britain/ Switzerland 2021
We are now in the second year of the pandemic with its strong impact on film festivals. The Berlinale had not only to split their festival into two, but also needed to do all interviews online. This wildly crazy Romanian comedy-drama turned out to be the perfect winner of the Golden Bear in the main competition section exemplifying our strange, out-of-control world.
Director Radu Jude choses an unusual and uncomfortable theme a woman making a private sex tape for her and her husband’s pleasure and which accidently goes viral. We soon realize that the protagonist Emi Cilibiu (Katia Pascariu) is not a prostitute but a history schoolteacher, and the man is her husband. Before long, word gets back to her school, which orders a parent-teacher conference to discuss her outrageous and immoral behavior. Radu Jude questions his society through Emi’s eyes as she travels throughout the city during the pandemic, frustrated not only by Covid-19 restrictions of long lines and masks but also by an increasing uptick of sexism and nationalism. The pandemic helps her to take a distant view on the conservative changes in Romanian society, making her realize that her freedom and equality is slowly evaporating before her eyes. This was the first in a three-part section of the film.
The second part is a challenge and probably should be watched multiple times. It is very complex, and chock full of symbolism, definitions, and thoughts. Jude’s thought montage includes strange clips of historical events mixed in with other displeasing and peculiar elements. It is not entirely clear where this will lead us, but is enough to make the audience feel uncomfortable and question just where is society taking us? Many symbolic elements relate to death and the pandemic, but I personally struggled to really grasp what Jude was trying to tell us.
In the third part of this film, we see Emi confronted by a reasonable administration official who confirms that the parents and teachers will be voting on her future employment. She will have no choice but to resign if they all vote against her. This scene is very powerful since we see the parents who represent different aspects of conservative society. The attitudes include anti-Semitism, Roma-phobia, and a very negative attitude towards women. Jude gives us several possibilities for the ending. It is a perfect film for discussions since it relates to literature, historical events and political trends and will make you think about where we are heading. It contains modern social media-but combined with Middle-Ages idealism that has left us all wishing for a New Age of Enlightenment instead of a backlash of conservatism. It is a rare look at Romanian culture and is only the third Romanian film to be awarded the Golden Bear. I remember seeing CHILD POSE (2013) but somehow missed TOUCH ME NOT (2018).