Please join the East Central European Center at the Harriman Instiute for a special screening of the Romanian film Aferim! (2015), introduced by Professor Mona Momescu and followed by a discussion.
Described by Sheri Linden in the Los Angles Times as “a wickedly droll ride into Romania’s feudal past,” Aferim! goes beyond the mere Western perception of a remote time in the history of a forlorn country. Equally, it is not a product made for the expectations of the Western audience, as they are imagined by Romanian filmmakers of the last two decades. The film is directed by Radu Jude with cinematography by Marius Panduru.
A local warden-turned-bounty-hunter takes his young son on an expedition to catch a runaway Roma slave who allegedly had an affair with his master’s wife. The runaway is caught, and as the three men travel back to where the slave will be subjected to capital punishment by his dishonored master, a strange and unspoken fraternity develops between them, across social classes, prejudice, and various forms of slavery.
The film is a rarely-seen-before analysis of the Phanariotes age (late 1700s to the 1830s) in the Romanian principalities. Turkish, Greek and Romanian administrators act in a cacophony of rules, while ordinary people have to abide. Roma slaves and the wives of aristocrats alike suffer a lack of freedom and the fear of being disposable objects at the mercy of the “master and ruler of the house.” Petty clerks perpetuate the same abusive behavior against those who are defenseless, collecting absurd taxes. Byzantinism, which existed well into the late 1800s in Romanian society, permits this all to proceed unquestioned— this is fate! The only exception to this chaos is the plethora of rhymed Romanian lore, which the characters fall back on to make sense of their lives. Again, it is the rhetoric of Byzantium and of the Balkans.
Filmed in black and white, Aferim! (which ironically translates as “well done/bravo/kudos”) stands as one of the major accomplishments of the Romanian cinema in the last decade.