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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2016 New Directors

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Anishoara: A farewell to a dying world

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- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2016: Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu’s first feature is competing for the New Directors Award at the Basque gathering

Anishoara: A farewell to a dying world

Moldovan director Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu’s Anishoara [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, a German-Moldovan co-production selected in the New Directors competition of the 64th San Sebastián Film Festival, follows other well-received coming-of-age stories from Eastern Europe, such as Nicolae Constantin Tănase’s The World Is Mine [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and Eliza Petkova’s Zhaleika [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
. The story of Anişoara (Ana Morari), a 15-year-old teenager from a Moldovan village, pays homage to a dying way of life while simultaneously celebrating the beautiful local countryside. 

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Scutelnicu uses mostly non-professional actors and an observational approach to the story in order to create a compelling and endearing micro-universe. The film’s first scene, in which an actor (Andrei Sochircă) recites the myth of how skylarks appeared on the face of the Earth, is both foreboding and inviting, paving the way for the easily translatable symbolism of the story.

Anişoara lives with her brother, Andrei (Andrei Morari), and their grandfather, Petru (Petru Roşcovan), in an unnamed, crumbling Moldovan village. The household chores fill her day and the family is obviously poor, but joy is not lacking from her life. A scene where Anişoara picks and devours watermelons together with other villagers is particularly uplifting: the sun is setting, a trumpet is playing a joyous tune, and everybody is laughing with their mouths filled with the fruit’s sweetness. When handsome Dragoş (Dragoş Scutelnicu) shows up, Anişoara is smitten with this man whom she has seen for the first time in her life. From that very moment, her days are filled with purpose and longing.

Scutelnicu’s screenplay divides Anişoara’s coming-of-age itinerary into four seasonal parts. It is a world of discovery for both the protagonist and the audience, as local life is slowly revealed with the help of excellent camerawork by Luciano Cervio, Cornelius Plache and Max Preiss, and impressive sound design by Niklas Kammertöns. Interestingly, it is a world devoid of money: it looks like the villagers provide for themselves (and the camera catches them working their land more than once), with no need for currency. The fact that the only character who uses banknotes is a German tourist, Mr Schmidt (Willem Menne), only highlights the fact that he is an intruder, an aberration in the simple life of the village that seems frozen in time.

Scutelnicu’s film shares with Petkova’s Zhaleika (selected at this year’s Berlinale and the winner of the top award at the Sofia International Film Festival in March) a grim social aspect of the region: it is a world devoid of adults. The war against poverty forces all the able adults to leave their families and earn their living in other countries, thus leaving villages inhabited only by children and senior citizens. In this context, Anişoara’s fascination for handsome Dragoş is completely understandable, as is the protagonist’s need for a change of scenery, which carries an ominous message: in one generation’s time, the picturesque village may become completely deserted. 

Anishoara, produced by Germany's Weydemann Bros and Moldova, sometimes suffers because of the slowness of the story, and some sequences could easily have been omitted from the film’s final cut, but Scutelnicu shows great mastery in taking the audience prisoner in her charming world. It is a world unfamiliar to most festivalgoers and a world that is slowly, but inevitably, fading away. It should be cherished while it is still there.

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