A black and white romp through 19th century Romanian feudalism, what Radu Jude’s Aferim! lacks in substance, it makes up for in style.
Once Upon A Time In The Eastby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Set in the rugged plains of Wallachia of 1835, Radu Jude’s Aferim! is a Romanian Western of one lawman retrieving for a bounty an escaped gypsy slave and returning him to his rightful owner, a local despot boyer. Filmed in black and white with an opening that could almost be a cactus blowing in the winds of Monument Valley, the plot of Jude’s film could be lifted straight from a Western – only the injun is a gypsy and the cowboy a local – a not so veiled commentary on the treatment of Romas in Romania, suffering ill treatment and violent injustice. Back then, the country was a crossroads in southeastern Europe between the Russians and the Ottoman Empire, and Aferim! deliciously evokes the fears and suspicions of this superstitious time – from cholera and clerical antisemitism to rootless bible myths about Adam kicking Eve in the stomach. Like its heroes, Aferim! trots along on a wandering, blethering script, but after a promising start fails to build into a serious film about the issues facing contemporary Romania. Its commentary on the country’s utter lawlessness – under the yoke of violent boyers who get around the law with bribes – or the treatment of gypsies is too loose and vague, unable to galvanise the general prejudice into an incisive political point. Literally meaning “Bravo!” Aferim! delights with beautiful cinematography and an amusing script, but resorts unfortunately to an exercise in Western style. Over substance.
Aferim! was shown at the 65th Berlin Film Festival and is now showing at the 59th London Film Festival