AFERIM! (Radu Jude, 2015)
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway at 63rd St., 212-757-2280
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Opens Friday, January 22
Romanian director Radu Jude won the Silver Bear as Best Director at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival for Aferim!, his savagely funny blacker-than-black comic Western about bigotry, infidelity, and frontier justice in 1835 Wallachia. Lawkeeper Costandin (Teodor Corban) and his son, Ionitā (Mihai Comānoiu), are galloping through the local countryside, searching for runaway Gypsy slave Carfin (Cuzin Toma), who Boyar Iordache Cindescu (Alexandru Dabija) has accused of having an affair with his wife, Sultana (Mihaela Sîrbu). The surly Costandin leads the hunt, verbally cutting down everyone he meets, from random old women to abbots to fellow lawmen, with wicked barbs, calling them filthy whores, crows, and other foul names while spouting ridiculous theories about honor and religion; he even batters his son, saying he’s “a waste of bread” and that “if you slap him, he’ll die of grief.” It’s a cruel, cholera-filled time in which even the monks beat the poor, where Costandin regales a priest with the telling riddle, “Lifeless out of life, life out of lifeless,” which the priest thinks refers to the coming doomsday.
Cowritten by Jude (The Happiest Girl in the World, Everybody in Our Family) and novelist Florin Lăzărescu (Our Special Envoy, Numbness), who previously collaborated on the short film The Tube with a Hat, and shot in gloriously stark black-and-white by Marius Panduru (12:08 East of Bucharest; Police, Adjective), the Romanian / Bulgarian / Czech coproduction is an absurdist combination of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, and John Ford’s The Searchers, skewering everything in its path, either overtly or under its wide-reaching breath. Even Dana Pāpāruz’s costumes are a genuine riot, especially the boyar’s majestically ridiculous hat. But Aferim! is more than just a clever parody of period films and nineteenth-century Eastern European culture and social mores; it is also a brilliant exploration of the nature of racism, discrimination, misogyny, and the aristocracy that directly relates to what’s going on around the world today as well as how Romania has dealt with its own sorry past of enslaving the Romani people. Jude was inspired by real events and historical documents, setting the film immediately after the 1834 Russian occupation, which adds to its razor-sharp observations. “Aferim! is an attempt to gaze into the past, to take a journey inside the mentalities of the beginning of the nineteenth century — all epistemological imperfections inherent to such an enterprise included,” Jude says in his director’s statement. “It is obvious that such an effort would be pointless should we not believe that this hazy past holds the explanation for certain present issues.” Romania’s submission for the Academy Awards, Aferim! opens January 22 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Angelika; don’t miss this absolute gem of a film.