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TRANSILVANIA 2024

Review: Where Elephants Go

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- Whimsical, funny and touching, Romanian directorial duo Gabi Virginia Şarga and Cătălin Rotaru’s film nevertheless doesn’t shy away from difficult topics

Review: Where Elephants Go
Carina Lăpuşneanu and Ştefan Mihai in Where Elephants Go

After their debut with the by-the-book hospital whistleblower drama Thou Shalt Not Kill [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(2019), Romanian directorial duo Gabi Virginia Şarga and Cătălin Rotaru return to the spotlight with Where Elephants Go [+see also:
interview: Gabi Virginia Şarga and Căt…
film profile
]
, which marks a sudden change in their tone and has landed them a spot in as many as three sidebars at the 23rd Transilvania International Film Festival: the official competition, the Romanian Days competition and the Smart7 Festival Network strand.

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Together with another Romanian Days entry, Ana-Maria Comănescu’s Horia [+see also:
film review
interview: Ana-Maria Comănescu
film profile
]
, Where Elephants Go seems to cater for an audience eager for a lighter touch than the usual bleak, drab and morose Romanian drama that previously brought a host of awards to the directors and producers, while local cinemagoers were unenthusiastic, at best. By telling a story about three characters at a certain place in their lives, where they seemingly have nothing more to lose, Şarga and Rotaru’s sophomore directorial effort playfully points the finger at society’s expectations. And the established film industry’s, too!

First, we meet Marcel (Ştefan Mihai), a twentysomething who seems to have just hurt his hand, badly. Dishevelled, untrimmed and sporting a jacket that should have been washed weeks ago, Marcel provokes passers-by by proposing sex to women and by imitating men. One might think that Marcel, besides being totally indifferent to what the good-manners rulebook says about how he should behave in public, is eager to feel something, anything, even if that anything is a slap in the face. Then, Marcel meets Magda (Alice Cora Mihalache), a hotel waitress who offers him a tip for a free, all-you-can-eat breakfast, and Leni (Carina Lăpuşneanu), a nine-year-old suffering from cancer. Marcel might start to feel something after all.

Whimsical, unpredictable and only a tad artificial – as all of its pieces are precisely positioned in the right place in order to click into the story – the film also talks about how we lie to ourselves and to others in order to make life more bearable. “In case of problems, use fiction or wear a colourful, crocheted hat,” the film seems to say. At first, Leni appears to be the most energetic cancer patient ever, but she soon disarms even the most reticent and cold-hearted viewer with her quest through colourful Bucharest, where she leaves even more colourful graffiti stating, “Leni was here.”

Where Elephants Go may not become the second Romanian film to feature a wild beast (after Andrei Tănase’s Day of the Tiger [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Andrei Tănase
film profile
]
), but Leni was, indeed, here. The story’s beating heart is truly infectious, inviting us to be more playful and less eager to force those we meet into boxes. What we get is the idea that, with just a little bit of imagination, anything is possible, even when life finds a way to contradict us, day after day. And when a weird-looking man (Kani Andrei Hîncu) tells us to be in a certain place at a certain time, why not just do that, as something interesting could happen…

At its heart, Where Elephants Go may be a manifesto about both how to live and how to make cinema. This was certainly not the intention of the two writer-directors, but the movie’s free spirit and its proficiency in breaking conventions could prove contagious.

Where Elephants Go was produced by Romanian outfits Green Cat Film, Atelier de Film and Avanpost Media. Reason8 Film is handling its international sales.

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