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Recently, a friend referred this film to me and although I am very interested in Romanian cinema and especially films from the Romanian “New Wave” (internationally recognized films from 2005-today) I had never heard of this one until she told me about it. I’m so glad she told me about it. And now I’m telling you about it.
Balanta/The Oak (1992)-dir. by Lucian Pintilie
It was just as hilarious and strange as my friend described it, if not more. The style, aesthetics, and plot are way different from most of the “new wave” films of today, although I would say that that NBD (no big deal), shoulder-shrugging attitude that goes hand-in-hand with bleak, black-humour and is very reminiscent of post-communist Romania is still very present in this film.
[On a side note, I realized the main actress, Maia Morgensten, plays Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the “Passion of the Christ”]
I don’t want to give away the storyline, but I do want to put it out there that, if you plan to watch it, you just might be shocked by the dark humor and strange relations between people in the film.
In the world of this film (which very much resembles my experiences in Romania): Drama is pretty much thrown out the window…the camera takes on several perspectives, switching throughout the film, and barely reveals which characters it sides with, remaining mostly observational and neutral. Almost nothing is a big deal, anything can be laughed at or trivialized, because the harsh reality of life is just not worth facing. The film’s attitude is similar to that of other Romanian films in how it is neither sympathetic nor condemning…if anything, this characteristic, combined with the dark humor, seems to form somewhat of a loose Romanian-esque style.
Its really interesting how the plot starts out with grief, depression, and even nostalgia, but abruptly shifts into a light, funny, or ironic mood…this quick transition happens often in the film, which makes the main characters seem just slightly schizo… :p
The film is, obviously, rich in political discourse…there’s a very lively scene towards the end (which is also HILARIOUS, especially if you are Romanian or have been around Romanian family parties/gatherings) in which questions of capitalism, the economy of Romania, and religion get thrown around in a friendly debate..of sorts. You can watch the scene here, if you have a few minutes to spare: (i just realized there aren’t any subtitles in this clip, but there are english subtitles in the full length movie on youtube)
OMG THE DIALOGUE. I wanted to take so many screenshots of great lines, and totally absurd conversations, but they’re hard to catch in just one shot…the attitude towards the military is really great…in that it mostly pokes fun and doesn’t take anything they do seriously. In fact, there is a scene in which they are represented as cowardly and mindless. They randomly drop in to the characters’ lives and always interrupt the main storyline.
It was really fun to watch. It is definitely the most strangest Romanian film I have ever seen…the characters constantly take you by surprise and all the randomness seems welcomed and expected in the world of the film. Sometimes, the plot just takes a brief tangent and lingers there and it just adds to the density of the story and landscape.
So, since I should stop before I start rambling about the themes of violence and class politics in the film, I will simply recommend this to everyone. You can easily watch it on Youtube with English subtitles.