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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017 Competition

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Soldiers. Story from Ferentari: A cold look at class inequality

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- SAN SEBASTIAN 2017: Ivana Mladenovic breaks new ground in Romanian cinema, where LGBT topics are almost non-existent

Soldiers. Story from Ferentari: A cold look at class inequality
Vasile Pavel Digudai and Adrian Schiop in Soldiers. Story from Ferentari

Regardless of the international awards and its good reception abroad, Romanian cinema is seriously lacking in terms of LGBT-centred features. But no more: Ivana Mladenovic’s first fiction feature Soldiers. Story from Ferentari [+see also:
trailer
interview: Ivana Mladenovic
film profile
]
promotes a story that boldly goes where no other Romanian director has gone before. The film is now competing for the Golden Shell at the 65th San Sebastián International Film Festival.

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In a perfect world, a film critic would never use the word “courageous” when reviewing an LGBT film, but Soldiers is indeed courageous for a country like Romania, where the constitution may be changed following a referendum, so that it specifically describes family as “the marriage between a man and woman”. The story centres on Adi (Adrian Schiop), an anthropologist who moves to the Roma neighbourhood in Bucharest, Ferentari, to study manele – the music of the Roma community. In the poor neighbourhood (some would call it ghetto-like), Adi is an obvious intruder, but the meeting of Alberto (Vasile Pavel Digudai), a 30-something Roma ex-convict, will prove beneficial. As Adi wants in and Alberto wants out, their synchronised directions become the perfect place to study the differences between the two worlds, and whether or not love is in fact possible.

A gay love story and a social commentary on the inequality of chance, Soldiers is a compelling mix of documentary and fiction, aided by the fact that the main actor, Adrian Schiop, plays a fictionalised version of himself after co-writing the screenplay with Mladenovic based on his autobiographical novel of the same title. With two amateur actors centre stage, and Mladenovic’s unsentimental, perhaps even cold, approach, Soldiers is a raw exploration of a world rarely seen before in Romanian films. As an anthropological endeavour it’s as convincing and revealing as Alexander Nanău’s excellent documentary Toto and His Sisters [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(a double bill with the two titles would be a smart programming decision for events trying to open a door into the Roma community). Details of Alberto’s biography will demonstrate how easy it is to get lost in the underbelly of the system when education and activities that regular children so often take for granted are out of the question.

But Soldiers shouldn’t only be praised for its unprecedented access to the Roma community (manele guru Dan Bursuc plays himself in the film), but also for how it demonstrates that every surface can be scratched and every prejudice can be challenged. It strips down its protagonists to their core. A shy anthropologist with articles published in American books and a verbal, often aggressive former convict who doesn’t even know how to write his own name sit on a bed and the world goes quiet. When they gaze into each other’s eyes, nothing matters but their feelings for each other. Manele have a fixation on rags to riches stories, but there are no rags and riches here. Deep down, we have no colour, no nation and no religion. Deep down we don’t even have a gender. Deep down we are small, shapeless black holes, hungry for intimacy and love, and Soldiers succeeds in showing how this yearning and harsh social reality meet.

Soldiers. Story from Ferentari was produced by Hi Film Productions (Romania) and co-produced by Film House Bas Celik (Serbia) and Frakas Productions (France). Beta Cinema is responsible for international sales. Romanian distributor microFILM is in charge of its domestic release on 2 February 2018.

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