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JIHLAVA 2018 Between the Seas

Review: Timebox

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- Memory, relevance and one's relationship with one's home are discussed in Nora Agapi's debut feature, which world-premiered at Astra

Review: Timebox

An elderly documentary director and film collector is threatened with eviction in Romanian helmer's Nora Agapi's documentary Timebox, which was world-premiered at the 25th edition of Astra Film Festival (15-21 October, Sibiu), before starting its international career in the Between the Seas competition of the Ji.hlava IDFF. Acting as both the director and a character in her film, Agapi succeeds in telling a story that may prove endearing to former communist countries in Eastern Europe, and relevant and revealing to audiences from other regions of the world.

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The documentary centres on Ioan-Matei Agapi, a filmmaker and photographer in the Romanian city of Iaşi. Now 80, he has a host of stories from the times when the Communist Party ruled the country. But the film doesn't focus only on the past, as Agapi is now threatened with eviction from the few rooms he occupies in a state-owned palace in the very centre of the city. His situation harks back to communist times, when flats were assigned to but never owned by their lodgers, and Agapi finds himself at the meeting point between different generations and mentalities. It is a pleasure to watch him, still a dandy and a passionate, witty causeur, ready to laugh at the past, the future and everything in between, even in the direst of circumstances.

The film's setting may at times seem contrived, as Nora Agapi shoots her father and he shoots her, but the audience is soon brought around by their exchanges and by the way they welcome the viewers into the family. Present-day shots are edited together with family pictures and fragments of footage from the filmmaker's impressive collection, stressing his role as a guardian, a curator, a saviour of the past. Thousands of hours of Romania's history are hidden away in the carefully labelled boxes that cover the apartment’s walls, giving a deeper meaning to the eviction being enforced by the local authorities: besides throwing an old man out onto the street, this indifferent act on the authorities’ part may very well destroy his entire collection.

Timebox is being screened at Astra in the Against the Current thematic sidebar, and it would be very difficult to find a better way to describe Agapi's itinerary in life. Although he was a photographer and documentarian for the Communist Party, he was never a member of the party. A cancer survivor and now a fly in the ointment in the eyes of the authorities, which want to renovate the building, he has to put up a fight yet again.

But there is another way in which Timebox is truly impressive, as it analyses meaning and value. For the protagonist, the thousands of objects he has amassed over the decades form an amazing, if eclectic, collection. He considers them a valuable legacy for the generations to come, a true, raw part of Romania's history. On the other hand, at one point, his daughter bluntly suggests that he is just a hoarder and that his “collection” will prove a real nuisance when Agapi has to change dwellings. For him, the collection is as integral to his life as a limb; for her, it is just a pile of dusty boxes that will require time and money to move. Between these two opposite perspectives, a fertile territory for analysis and introspection is created, giving the audience genuine food for thought. 

Timebox was produced by Romanian production company Manifest Film. The film will be released domestically next spring.

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