Back Home: A war of readjustments
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Andrei Cohn discusses family and status in his smart, sensitive first feature
Andrei Cohn’s first feature, Back Home [+see also:
interview: Andrei Cohn
interview: Andrei Cohn
film profile], shown in competition at the 21st Sarajevo Film Festival (14-22 August), impresses with its smart, talky screenplay written by Mimi Brănescu, but also with its interesting approach to warring points of view about family and life.
Alexandru Papadopol (Cristi Puiu’s Stuff and Dough) is Robert, a published poet and journalist from Bucharest. He goes back home, to the village where he was born, which he hasn’t visited since his mother’s death. His relationship with his father (Florin Zamfirescu) is not a very good one, and the reconnection is not helped by the fact that the old man now lives with Iuliana (Nataşa Raab). Over the next 24 hours, Robert will confront his past, in an outstanding effort to renegotiate his present. It is a war of readjustments: expectations, status and ambitions will be discussed in search of a certain existential clarity.
Cohn uses Robert’s status as a starting point for showing how different life is in the Romanian capital from that in the provinces. The village is small, and the only shop also serves as a bar, where the schoolteacher drinks together with the local alcoholics. No matter how average he is, Robert is the hotshot who everyone is anxious to talk to. He lives in Bucharest, he is a writer, he has seen the world. He is the one that got away and is now living the high life in the capital.
But actually, Robert is merely an exhausted man who no longer sees the path his life should take. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, he lies in bed in his father’s house, surrounded by tons of accessories that would give an Ikea designer a headache (unless he or she really loves embroidered pillows). It is obvious that Robert has to go back in order to move forward. And going back doesn’t stop at his father’s house.
Robert will meet Petrică (Andi Vasluianu), his childhood best friend, and Paula (Ioana Flora), his high-school sweetheart, at the village bar. At first remaining as a kind of pleasant, cocky banter between the two men (the weakest part of the screenplay), the conversation gets deeper as Paula joins in. The daughter of a former mayor and the most sought-after girl in the village a decade ago, Paula is now a divorcee in charge of the shop. She is the perfect example of how a lack of perspective and bad luck can crush a person’s dreams, but she is also living proof that sometimes a lack of dreams is also the path to a comfortable, quiet, not-unhappy life. It is only a matter of expectations.
Written and directed by men, Back Home impresses with a very convincing feminine point of view on life and family. A conversation with serene Iuliana, a late-night visit to Paula’s house and a dinner at Petrică’s are all occasions for a fresh, feminine spin on the usually macho world of Romanian cinema. Both Petrică and Robert look plain silly when compared to the female characters. Although the most touching of them is Paula, Petrică’s wife impresses with her point of view and an excellent performance by Mirela Oprişor (who played the wife in Radu Muntean’s Tuesday, After Christmas [+see also:
interview: Radu Muntean
film profile]). Not having a family, not wanting it, or adapting to a new idea of family are subjects at the core of Cohn’s drama, probably the best first film that Romania has had to offer in 2015.