Romanian shorts showcase their love for the culture in 2019’s eccentric and varied selection. This round of entries utilizes textures and crafts to tell homespun stories – highly personal, culturally resonant, and eccentrically colored – these shorts will not disappoint. As with many festivals, here we find the true heart of the presentation. These are the films that go beyond their length and, as a collection, tell us the most about what the festival is about. In this case, it’s about brave storytellers with highly contrasting styles and techniques telling lovely, chiefly Romanian stories.
Anca Damian’s The Call presents the memory of a mother. She is the accumulation of her things — literally: built of motherly craft and knick-knack items, a posterboard face. She descends into the bathtub where she most loved to go. And a man remembers her particular journey through life. Usefully, the short is awash in frothy, water-logged hues, floating gracefully beneath the surface of the bath. The story is recounted, how she met father, whatever happened to him, and it’s just a nicely made family pastiche of craft-hobby culture all around. We leave with a true sense of a person.
Another short on the remnant objects of parenthood. What is loveliest about Opinci (My Father’s Shoes) is the rich storytelling tradition that unfolds between father and daughter. His speech unfurls as rich tapestries of tradition, taking his daughter to places “full of mirrors and blinding chandeliers.” It’s wondrous and sweet, stretching the run a bit but making up for it with creativity. Made through careful stop motion and uniquely styled figures, Opinci is a delightful and chiefly Romanian short infatuated with the power of storytelling.
Cadoul de Crăciun
Translating literally to “The Christmas Gift,” Cadoul de Crăciun is some of the sharpest storytelling to be found in a short picture right now. Director Bodan Muresanu is a talented writer, perhaps more clearly than a director. An unstable camera nauseously swims about as a refined story unfolds before it. A man has been politically implicated by his son’s own letter to Santa. In the letter, the boy writes, his father would like his political adversary dead. The anxiety of the situation plays out with political intrigue, keeping mostly to the confines of a regionally decorated apartment building. There is subterfuge even within the family in this charged fable, where you cannot even trust your neighbor or your son. The gift here is in the telling, the finest of the block and a real standout of the festival itself.
Paparuda is an agricultural coming of age story about a village suffering a severe drought. Named after a traditional Romanian rain dance, where young women offer displays of their fertility while creating the sound and rhythm of the rain. The short sounds off with an underlying hum. Paparuda is gracefully shot and is lead by an enriched and naturalistic lead performance by Eugenia Pasat. Pasat finds great empathy for her character and lives within the small moments, cleverly evoking a greater story about her life amongst her people. A nice, relaxed watch that feels full of feeling and smart use of symbolism.
When Saturn Returns
Ah, the story of the unrequited first love. A man raps to himself in the grocery where he works when his first love, gone for sixteen years, appears and distracts him from the concert where he would perform that evening. The story shoots back to that first detrimental moment of his youth, the initial loss of a relationship, and he must deal with the memories and feelings again. Given the adult actors bear no resemblance to their child counterparts it’s surprising they instantly recognize each other! I can’t remember the people I met last month. There is something here but the translation feels uncertain.
An elder man discovers untold riches while using his wooden outhouse. Once promised that he would find wealth in old age, he held onto the belief his entire life. One day while on the john, lightning struck its top and transformed the toilet into a dream travel machine. The man is instantly transported to whatever newspaper clipping he reads, scraps meant for toilet paper, that unlock the greatest potential of his life. This critic adores Billion, the quirky otherness of it, the extremely strange mechanics of its story. It’s all very complimentary to a funny central performance that drives it home. Billion is a thoroughly creative and eccentric short about a man and his magic toilet.