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Rositsa Valkanova: Everything in the `Aferim!` is unfolding as if we peek through a window and observe that past.
First Publication: Sofia`s Festival newspaper 15-03-2015
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"Aferim!" of Radu Jude is one of four films in the Balkan competition at the SFF, which started as projects at "Sofia Meetings". Undoubtedly this is a film for which we’ll hear a lot, not only due to the prestigious "Silver Bear" at the Berlinale, but because it is a film-monster, film-time machine, film, which - although its action takes place back in 1835 - tells us all about ourselves, the people, who live on the Balkans today - why we are who we are and not others, why we always think about ourselves through our national virtues, and the others – through their flaws. The Bulgarian premiere of "Aferim!" coincides with the Romanian, as within the SIFF program the film will be presented tonight (March 13 at 18:30h. in “Odeon") by the Bulgarian team involved in the shooting.

Radu Jude on the set

Now here are some details from the Bulgarian co-producer of "Aferim!" Rositsa Valkanova:

Let΄s start with the universal title that needs no translation.

Yes, and as each of the team said to Radu after it took the "Silver Bear" in Berlin: "Mashala".

Let me emphasize the fact that this film is quite different from the films of Radu Jude, which we know - "The Happiest Girl in the World", "Everybody in Our Family," etc.

I would say, and the global and the Romanian critics mentioned it, that the film is different from what we are used to see as Romanian new wave, which is extremely focused on contemporary topics. Going back to the XIX century with this movie in the so called costume epoch/drama is really unusual for today΄s Romanian cinema, especially for the young wave. And for the filmography of the director as well.

Let΄s put the exact historical framework so we can orientate the viewers - the action takes place shortly before the middle of the XIX century, when Wallachia and Moldova are already independent.

Yes, the film begins at a very précised moment in time - 1835 - in Wallachia.

And this films talks about the prejudices that we, the various Balkan nations and ethnic groups, have towards each other - since those times. There is a priest who is explaining which are the biggest drawbacks of the Jews, Serbs, Turks, Armenians, respectively - the best traits of the Romanians. I think there was nothing about Bulgarians – probably because of the co-producers.

Ha-ha, yes. Somehow – talking in a joking manner – I guess that’s why the definition of Bulgarians was skipped, but we have so much in common with the Romanians (today and back then), that what is true for them, can easily relate to us. Their self-assessment so deeply coincides with ours, that I am convinced that Bulgarian viewers will see the movie as if they see a film about the Bulgarians from those times. No matter how many differences there are in the details, the similarities are a lot. And if we look at things in terms of the cinema, from my years of contact with Romanian filmmakers, particularly in the area, which is closer to us, Wallachia, the similarities are extremely much, we are close as mentality, and in our jokes, phrases, sayings. I believe that the Bulgarian viewers, besides the exoticism of that kind of "western" (as Radu calls it), which takes place in 1835 in Wallachia, will find existential, social, and domestically-psychological characteristics that largely overlap with Bulgarian reality and history. And the most important purpose of the film is to make us think where do today΄s prejudices come from, and why with such ease. We love to talk good about ourselves and bad about others in a joking manner or aphoristically– without knowing the others, without being there,  without having relationships with them, without reading their literature, without having any individual experience. Why do we so easily repeat the clichés which have become proverbs, the "wisdom of the ages." This movie echoes strongly in the Bulgarian consciousness.

The two riders in the film, the father and son, who are sort of bounty hunters in the Wild West, chase a Gypsy, who is an escaped slave. What is a Gypsy slave, because this category is unknown in Bulgarian history?

Yes, I even thought at first that it was a sort of serfdom as in Russia, but I was refuted. The creators of the script in all notes of the project repeatedly emphasized that this is part of the Romanian history, which is swept under the carpet today, so to say. But the truth is that for centuries they used to have Gypsies slaves - slavery, not serfdom, slaves were sold on the market as a commodity, like cattle. And from this point of view, the film is exotic, because you learn a few things about that time that you didn’t know, including our history.

We know Romanian reality of the XIX century vaguely from the works of our Renaissance writers, but mainly for one period which was a few decades later. Although the atmosphere of the film feels scary close, we still see a lot of unfamiliar things.

For me it was a true finding – my first encounter with these historical facts – the independent principality of Wallachia in the late 20s of the XIX century. So the analogy in our history would be the period immediately after the liberation, i.e. 50 years later in Bulgaria.

Yet the end of the XIX century is a more recent time, and the years in which the action takes place are some very dark times. It was even shot this way - black and white, we see the characters as if from a distance, plans are broader and more distant.

Except that it includes all these exotic, curious, interesting facts - historical, and about us as a nation - the film is actually a very cinematic - in every detail, in any decision: starting from the black and white picture, from the fact that is was filmed in static plans, the fact that the film is supposedly imitating the style of a western, i.e. in strictly genre parameters. However, this distance that Radu wanted to achieve with all possible artistic means - distance to the period, to the truth, to the historicity of this story – gets the viewer very close to this story, letting him contemplate on the "calm" picture that he sees. No interference of the author, no pointing a finger, no relation, judgment. It΄s really as if we peeked through a window and observe that past.
  Radu Jude
  Rossitsa Valkanova
  19th Sofia International Film Festival - The Awards
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