- The new family drama by Romanian filmmaker Călin Peter Netzer shows how harsh communist realities still poison the present
After winning the Berlinale Golden Bear with Child’s Pose [+see also:
interview: Calin Peter Netzer
film profile] in 2012 and the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution (for Dana Bunescu’s editing) with Ana, Mon Amour [+see also:
interview: Călin Peter Netzer
film profile] in 2017, Romanian director Călin Peter Netzer returns to the spotlight with what may be his most personal film yet, Familiar [+see also:
interview: Călin Peter Netzer
film profile], which has just had its world premiere in the main competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.
The screenplay, written by Netzer and Iulia Lumânare, follows Dragoş (Emanuel Pârvu, now shaven after his excellent turn in Bogdan George Apetri’s Miracle [+see also:
interview: Bogdan George Apetri
film profile]), a film director who obsesses over his new film project, a story about the complicated circumstances of his parents’ emigration to Germany in the 1980s. His parents’ Securitate files, and his mother’s (Ana Ciontea) involvement with a man who played a major role in the emigration, threaten to throw Dragoş on a path of discovery that might make him lose even the little he has.
Among the film’s merits is the exploration of circumstances that changed Romanian society forever during the last two decades of communism: more than 200,000 German ethnics were sold by Romania to West Germany. Netzer is not interested in the macrohistory (which is explored in Răzvan Georgescu’s revealing documentary Trading Germans [+see also:
film profile]), but in the personal stories of his characters — partly based on his own family — which show that not knowing your past can poison your present.
The last thing a critic should demand from an arthouse film is that it has likeable characters, but Familiar truly makes no compromises, filling the screen with aggression, hysteria and subterfuge. We see Dragoş engaged in a violent row with his father (Adrian Titieni), screaming obscenities at his mother and abusing his former lover, Ilinca (Lumânare), an actress whose involvement in the new project causes friction with Dragoş’s globe-trotting model girlfriend Alina (Victoria Moraru). Dragoş does at times realise that this behaviour may endanger his every chance of happiness, but these moments might be coming too late, at a time when the audience has already stopped caring for the rebarbative character. Even with Pârvu’s acting range, Dragoş remains a one-note, unredeemable character — a lense so dark that we might refuse to look through it, even if what lies behind may very well be an interesting and compelling story.
The film is ambitious and intriguing in its efforts to show that clarity is important for our mental well-being, and that honesty rather than deceit is the base for healthy relationships. We understand that, caught between his family history and his ambition to come up with a new film that would cement his reputation as an important director, Dragoş has the right to feel overwhelmed by everything that is happening. But we may still wish for a more nuanced approach to such a promising character.
Familiar was produced by Parada Film (Romania) and co-produced by Cinéma Defacto (France), Gaïjin (France), Volos Films (Taiwan) and The East Company Productions (Romania). International sales are handled by Beta Cinema. Parada Film will domestically release Familiar at the end of January 2024.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.