Prowl: Feminist cinema comes to Romania
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Alexandra Bălteanu explores abuse and prejudice in her social drama, currently screening at the Transilvania IFF
Following its international debut in the New Directors competition of last year’s San Sebastián Film Festival, Romanian-born German director Alexandra Bălteanu’s Prowl [+see also:
film profile] is now being screened out of competition in the Romanian Days sidebar of the Transilvania International Film Festival (2-11 June, Cluj-Napoca). It is an intriguing, ultra-fresh film centring on three sex workers making ends meet under a bridge in the vicinity of Bucharest.
Very rarely seen in recent Romanian cinema, and usually presented only as decorative, exotic elements (with the rare exception of Adrian Sitaru’s The Fixer [+see also:
interview: Adrian Sitaru
interview: Tudor Aaron Istodor
film profile], also being shown at TIFF 2017), prostitutes are shown in Prowl without any hint of prejudice. Bălteanu doesn’t comment on their occupation and sees them exactly as they are: people facing challenges and harbouring desires, people with dreams and mundane worries. This fresh, sincere, objective approach and the clean, subdued acting make Prowl feel almost like a documentary.
What is truly impressive about Prowl is that it never tries to “humanise” its protagonists: the approach is never “they are people, too”. It is easy to use emotion or shocking artifices in order to create empathy, but Bălteanu takes a neater, more impressive route, removing all colourful aspects as she follows an eventful day in the life of her characters.
Bălteanu builds a convincing world around the three sex workers, showing, for example, Lidia (Corina Moise, from Double [+see also:
film profile]) in her house, cooking dinner for her family. On a cold morning, she and her best friend Denisa (Iulia Lumânare) go to work, and given Bălteanu’s refusal to use any exhibitionistic elements, they could be working anywhere. For the audience, it comes as a surprise that Lidia, Denisa and their friend/competitor Vanesa (Iulia Ciochină) offer oral sex for around ten euros under a well-transited bridge.
And herein lies the film’s strength: as there is a significant difference between how prostitutes are shown to the audience and how the audience is used to seeing them, the effect is surprisingly powerful and liberating, making Prowl one of the most efficient feminist films in recent Romanian cinema. The sex workers’ concern about how they are seen is a recurrent topic in the protagonists’ conversations, another efficient method that may discourage labelling.
In the context of regional cinema, Prowl is also a good example of an ongoing trend: Romanian-born women filmmakers working in other countries, but coming back to Romania with a fresh eye, in search of interesting stories. As different as they are, Bălteanu’s Prowl, Anca Miruna Lăzărescu’s That Trip We Took with Dad [+see also:
interview: Anca Miruna Lazarescu
film profile] and Ruxandra Zenide’s The Miracle of Tekir [+see also:
film profile] push the already comfortable boundaries of the Romanian New Wave and offer new perspectives based on very Romanian stories.
Produced by Deutsche Film & Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb) with help from the Film and Theatre University in Bucharest (UNATC), Prowl is an example of another interesting trend: features made by dffb students in their native countries (another example is Eliza Petkova’s Berlinale-selected Zhaleika [+see also:
film profile]), serving as excellent evidence of how European cinema works.
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