by Stefan Dobroiu
- BERLIN 2018: Ioana Uricaru’s first feature explores the trials and tribulations of a Romanian woman trying to settle in the United States
In her first feature, Lemonade [+see also:
interview: Ioana Uricaru
film profile], a new voice in Romanian cinema, Ioana Uricaru, explores a topic unfamiliar to the so-called local New Wave: the trials and tribulations of a Romanian immigrant in the United States. Produced by Palme d’Or winner Cristian Mungiu through his company Mobra Films, Lemonade has had its world premiere in the Berlinale Panorama.
The screenplay, written by Uricaru together with Tatiana Ionaşcu, follows Mara (Mălina Manovici, from Mungiu’s Graduation [+see also:
Q&A: Cristian Mungiu
interview: Cristian Mungiu
film profile]), a 30-year-old single mother from Romania working as a nurse in the United States. She only has a temporary visa, which has already expired, but after marrying Daniel (Dylan Scott Smith), one of her American patients, Mara feels entitled to pursue the famous American dream.
Aided by a convincing Manovici, Lemonade explores what a disruptive experience it is to leave your country and try to settle in a xenophobic society. It doesn’t take too long for Mara to face unpleasant experiences, from microaggressions to outright violence. With a sympathetic eye, Uricaru, herself a Romanian immigrant in the United States, seems to imply that America treats immigrants like a virus, quickly forming a protective wall and shouting at the intruder: “We are better than you,” “You don’t deserve to be here,” or “You are a lesser human being.”
It is extremely revealing that Daniel is suffering from a kidney disease, making Mara both his wife and his nurse. As a human being, Mara seems not to be his equal, needing her caregiving skills in order to become worthy of being a wife. It is also telling that the only kind voices Mara hears during the few days covered in the screenplay are those of immigrants who have struggled to find their place in this new country.
But Lemonade doesn’t only point fingers at Mara’s present and future; it points fingers at her past, too. The protagonist is running from a past where providing a good life for her son, Dragoş (Milan Hurduc), was an impossible dream. Her American experiences are harsh commentaries on her adoptive country’s xenophobia, but also on Romania, a country where things are bad enough to push a young professional to great lengths in order to achieve a better life.
A story that works through accumulation (which means that it shares its backbone with another relevant regional hit, Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s The Lesson [+see also:
interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Val…
interview: Margita Gosheva
film profile]), Lemonade goes to a dark place we don’t usually visit when discussing the move to another country. We talk about those who dream of immigrating but never find the heart to do it – and about those who did immigrate and succeeded. The sadder stories seem to get lost on the border between these two territories, whose mentality Lemonade explores convincingly.
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