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WARSAW 2017 Competition

The Anniversary: A typology of Romanian society

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- Dan Chişu’s family drama, screening at Warsaw, discusses Romanians’ ambiguous relationship with their past

The Anniversary: A typology of Romanian society

A spacious apartment in the centre of Bucharest and a large family gathered together to celebrate the birthday of its frail, 94-year-old patriarch: anything could happen in Dan Chişu’s overcomplicated family drama The Anniversary [+see also:
trailer
film profile
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, which is competing in the International Competition of the Warsaw International Film Festival (13-22 October). What emerges from so many bubbly relationships and effervescent reactions is the fact that Romania’s society is still struggling (and is still far from succeeding) to redeem, fight or at least forget its communist past, with death and old age being powerful allies in this endeavour. 

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Chişu’s screenplay immediately sets the tone of this apartment drama: several people fret as they clean and decorate a big, somewhat antiquated apartment. A sizeable table is prepared for a family celebration, and we soon find out that patriarch Radu Maligan (the late Mircea Albulescu) is turning 94, with several generations of his sprawling family gathering for a special lunch. The Maligans are not a happy family: quarrels and thorny remarks hang heavy in the atmosphere. And things will not get any better when the guests, former work colleagues of the patriarch’s, start to arrive at the birthday party, like a menagerie of beasts bearing their claws and fangs.

It is impossible to write a review for The Anniversary without addressing the elephant in the room: the film feels like a less ambitious, clumsier version of Cristi Puiu’s superb Sieranevada [+see also:
film review
trailer
Q&A: Cristi Puiu
film profile
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. But if Puiu excellently explores the complexities of family relationships, Chişu seems more interested in cobbling together a typology that comments on a generous palette of present issues in modern-day Romanian society and its relationship with a lingering, rather bitter past. The characters seem handpicked in order to cover as much social terrain as possible, from the corrupt, abusive politician and the former Securitate agent to the hardworking, frustrated housewife and the beautiful, ambitious young socialite.

Unfortunately, the similarities with Sieranevada are augmented by Maligan’s ailing health, which means that the screenplay misuses the dying man as a quiet, rather menacing prop, even if he is the centre of all conversations: it is a birthday party, but it could easily have been a memorial service. The topics of faith and drug addiction are other similarities between the two productions, which were written and shot almost simultaneously.

At its most sensitive and ambitious, The Anniversary studies how the past continuously and inexorably affects the present – how it is always there, from the putrid, terrifying skeleton in the closet to the subconscious impulses of the mind, which are never understood but are often the source of various reactions. When not exploring this struggle with time (the characters have lost their power, youth, health and love), the drama strays into insufficiently convincing comic territory. Having cast some of the most respected or popular Romanian actors may help the film’s box-office performance at home, but The Anniversary is only a minor title in a national film industry that keeps reinventing itself.

The Anniversary was produced by Chişu’s Dakino Productions, and co-produced by 4 Proof Film and Watch Me Productions, all of which are Romanian outfits. After a world premiere in June at the Transilvania International Film Festival and an international premiere at Warsaw, the film will be released in Romanian cinemas on 10 November by Dakino.

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