- With an impressive economy of resources, Emanuel Pârvu explores the ideas of guilt and accountability
Four years after winning the Heart of Sarajevo award for Best Director with his awkwardly titled Meda or The Not So Bright Side of Things [+see also:
interview: Emanuel Pârvu
film profile], Romanian director, screenplayer and actor Emanuel Pârvu returns to a major film festival with his very aptly titled second feature Mikado [+see also:
interview: Emanuel Pârvu
film profile], which is now being screened in the New Directors competition at the San Sebastián Film Festival.
The screenplay, written by Alexandru Popa and Pârvu, starts with a moment shared by a father, Cristi (Şerban Pavlu), and his teenage daughter, Magda (Ana Indricău). It is Magda’s birthday and Cristi gives her an expensive bracelet, but that same day Magda offers the bracelet to a girl who is a patient in the oncology ward where Magda’s boyfriend Iulian (impressive newcomer Tudor Cucu-Dumitrescu) comes regularly to entertain the young patients with his magic tricks. The way Cristi reacts when he finds out that Magda has given away his gift and the fact that his reaction may have led to a fatal stroke suffered by Iulian’s mother (Tania Filip), who is a nurse in the oncology ward, will set in motion an unpredictable string of events.
The issue with the story’s premise is that it uses so few elements that Mikado feels like a laboratory experiment: every element of the story is chosen to create the biggest entropy possible and the most unpredictable dynamic. No matter how effective, this makes the film go very far from a slice-of-life approach, and actually brings it closer to a case study. But while Mikado doesn’t go wide, it certainly goes deep, putting guilt and accountability under a powerful microscope.
Where Pârvu (who is also an accomplished actor with an impressive performance in Bogdan George Apetri’s Venice Orizzonti-selected Miracle [+see also:
interview: Bogdan George Apetri
film profile]) succeeds is in creating empathy and convincing the audience to put themselves in the character’s shoes and ask themselves some very personal questions. How would they have reacted in Cristi’s place? Are his actions motivated by guilt? Is he indeed guilty and should he be accountable? No matter the answers, the result is that Mikado sucks the viewers in its complex weave of antagonistic forces, all the while talking about how some events have consequences that no one can ignore. Here, it becomes apparent why the game of Mikado has given the perfect title to this film, where any action from a character causes a reaction from the others.
Cristi may not be the most likeable character in recent Romanian cinema, but we at least understand his reactions. A past trauma has made him feel powerless, which is now translated into his obsession for control that he is ready to exert at every moment in all his relationships. Does this make him a villain? Not at all, although at times he behaves like one. On the other hand, Iulian, who is as happy as a clam before being faced with his own trauma, is the perfect complementary element to Cristi, the two characters creating a powerful dynamic that is made even more intense by the fact that both have close relationships with Magda. One may have killed the person the other loves most, while the latter may be stealing the person that the former loves the most.
Unfortunately, faithful to their ultra-effective and minimalist approach to dissecting a complicated situation, the two screenwriters choose an ending that is supposed to turn tables, making it all up into a circle. It may have looked good on paper, but on the screen it appears artificial and, most of all, unnecessary.
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