Romanian film review – Striking Gold: Berlinale 2018

The Berlin International Film Festival has just ended and how wonderful to be able to say its big winner is a Romanian film!

Congratulations to Adina Pintilie for her striking debut Nu mă atinge-mă/Touch Me Not. What an achievement! The Berlinale (as it is shortly and fondly called) is one of the most important international festivals worldwide, so Pintilie coming (seemingly) out of nowhere and snatching the prize is major.

Touch Me Not has caused quite a stir, and that is no small feat for a production in a competition which featured its fair share of shockers (from Steven Soderbergh nasty iPhone thriller Unsane to Erik Poppe’s gut-wrenching fictional reenactment of the 2011 massacre on the Norwegian island of Utøya, U – July 22).

A mixture of documentary and drama, Touch Me Not focuses on a middle-aged woman who struggles with intimacy and her attempts to understand and (if possible) overcome her fears. The persons she crosses paths with either have similar issues, or help others overcome them. It is difficult to outline a plot, since the film does not have a conventional one (it is mostly a series of interviews, discussions, and meetings) – and also I wouldn’t want to give away too much. But I can say it is an intelligent, heartfelt film. Its franc depiction of nudity and sex has upset some, and its ambitions annoyed others, but for all its flaws, this is fearless, dedicated, and ultimately very moving filmmaking.

Ioana Uricaru’s Lemonade is another feature debut and it was screened in the Panorama section, which is dedicated to debuts, second or third features. A Romanian, Canadian, German and Swedish co-production, Lemonade is set in the United States where Mara, a young Romanian woman just married to an American citizen is applying for her Green Card. With her young son from a previous relationship having just arrived, she is preparing for a new start. But things seldom turn out as planned, especially when legal issues are concerned, and as her Green Card application seems to be problematic, things get very nasty, very fast. Lemonade suffers from a few first-time mistakes, but it’s tense, well-acted (especially the lead), and packs a punch.

Last, but not least, Corneliu Porumboiu had another film screening in the Forum section, Infinite Football, which is dedicated to more experimental cinema. Which is just Porumboiu’s jam. His documentary on a man who wants to register a type of soccer with new rules (no joke) was one of this year’s highlights, a droll, clever, and absolutely niche delight. The protagonist in question is the brother of the director’s friends from his home town of Vaslui, a clerk in the mayor’s office by day and soccer inventor by night (or at any other time when he is not working).

The main part of his film is explaining to Porumboiu, who is also the interviewer in the film, the philosophy and challenges of this alternative game. In between these talks, we also gain some insight into his personal life, and watch others run in and out of it (his father, rummaging on the meaning of life and art), or his office (old ladies trying to solve paperwork). It becomes clear very soon that this is not only about football, but also about life, and one’s purpose in it. This is Porumboiu’s second documentary on the sport after his 2014 The Second Game, equally delightful, if more meta. As usual, he has an excellent feel for timing, a great ear for dialogue and the absurd, and is ace at choosing his protagonists.

As different as they are, these three pics all have in common a strong directorial vision, and a bold, assured approach. This is a very promising preview into the new year, and it will only be a matter of weeks or months until the films are released in Romania. The first to go is Infinite Football, which premieres on 9 March, so stay tuned for a detailed review.

Ioana Moldovan, columnist, ioana.moldovan@romania-insider.com

Photo source: Berlinale media website