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Self-Portrait of a Dutiful Daughter: A disobedient portrait of a generation


- Ana Lungu’s movie is being shown in the new feminist sidebar at Rotterdam

Self-Portrait of a Dutiful Daughter: A disobedient portrait of a generation
Elena Popa and Iris Spiridon in Self-Portrait of a Dutiful Daughter

A real success of truly independent Romanian cinema, Ana Lungu’s Self-Portrait of a Dutiful Daughter [+see also:
film profile
is debuting internationally in the new What the F?! sidebar of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. With a female protagonist in search of her own path through the world, few features would fit better in this new sidebar that explores feminism in all its forms. 

The titular self-portrait’s subject is Cristiana (Elena Popa), a young woman who tries to enjoy her new-found freedom after her parents move out of the apartment they used to share. Alone in the empty rooms, Cristiana has to fill the recently conquered space. She is happy she can finally be herself, but in fact has no idea who she is. The screenplay written by Lungu effectively builds an imaginary prison made from invisible walls, highlighting Cristiana’s conformism. 

Made with practically no funding over almost three years, Self-Portrait is an important achievement in a local film industry that largely depends on the financial support of the Romanian National Film Center. But what really impresses in Lungu’s feature debut are the cold and efficient touches that pepper Cristiana’s limited universe: conversations with friends, her efforts to finish her PhD thesis (on earthquake engineering) and her thoughts about buying a dog. DoP Silviu Stavilă’s camera never moves, once again stressing the rut in Cristiana’s life and turning Self-Portrait into an ultra-minimalist psychological thriller: will she or won’t she change?

With the exception of Popa and Emilian Oprea (also starring in Tudor Giurgiu’s Why Me? [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Tudor Giurgiu
film profile
, selected in the Berlinale’s Panorama), who plays a married man with whom Cristiana has an affair, many of the actors are amateurs. Lungu offers a meta approach by casting her own parents in the roles of her protagonist’s folks. Her father, Dan Lungu, contributes a particularly new perspective on his dutiful daughter (on screen), with his kind, but authoritative, monologues. One may get the impression that he slowly strokes Cristiana’s hair while clipping at her wings and putting rocks in her pockets… It is an image familiar to many Romanians of Cristiana’s age, raised in a “parents know best” environment by their families.

Even if some of the other performances seem strained and staged (“I like working with amateurs: their defects make them more alive, more humane,” Lungu told Cineuropa), Self-Portrait manages to captivate the audience with its flawed but endearing protagonist, who proves that when doors are shut in one’s face, one may shatter a window. Without using grand gestures or a shocking denouement, the screenplay pushes Cristiana in the right direction, allowing her to win both her freedom and the respect of the viewer.

Self-Portrait of a Dutiful Daughter is one of more than ten features directed by female Romanian filmmakers that are expected to end production and even be released in 2015 (see the analysis), a trend that will bring new perspectives to the local, mainly male-dominated industry. The film was produced by Cristi Puiu’s Mandragora production company and may get its first screening in Romania within the selection of the Transilvania International Film Festival (29 May-6 June).

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