Illegitimate

Ilegitim, Adrian Sitaru, 2016

It would be illegitimate to talk about Illegitimate as if it were a film about abortion or incest. Just as in the case of 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days (4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile, 2007), abortion or incest are mostly just pretexts for the action to move forward. Neither of the films tries to shock, neither of the films judges, or blames, and neither of the films could be placed in the pro or anti group. And when the viewer only sees the incest in the film and is scandalized by it, then the problem is in the eye of the beholder.

The idea of incest might be taboo, in Romania at least, because the film informs us that it’s legal in the Northern countries, and abortion is still a sensitive topic, considering Romania’s history with abortion and the religious rejection of it. But I’m not here to talk about the morality or lack of it of incest or abortion; I’m here to talk about Illegitimate, an independent low-budget feature film by Adrian Sitaru that has been awarded in the Forum section, Berlinale 2016.

But if it’s not a film about incest, what is it about?  About choices, contexts, causes, personal reasons, principles and their flexibility and about a Romanian family. Anghelescu family is shown in its own habitat, in their small apartment, all living together. The walls surrounding them feel to get closer, to suffocate; the space is too small for all of them, to contain all the thoughts, ideas, differences and feelings. It’s a life under pressure, a life under the camera. And so it was, even behind the cameras. The film is an acting exercise, “an experiment” where professionals and non-professionals are brought together in the same scene, in the same setting. The film is more than what you see on the screen, more than the one and a half hour, it is years of shaping characters, research and 2 weeks of living, eating, breathing together as the characters between the walls of that apartment in Bucharest. There was no script, only general lines, and all around strongly built characters, plus, surprisingly, this “outrageous” element, the incest that came along only later, after a talk around a table about a real incestuous relationship.

One could even see the film as a sort of documentary, and one would not be wrong. But it’s not a documentary about incest; it’s a documentary about fiction, about characters and actors, about how Anghelescu family continued to live even after the cameras were off, because even though the characters themselves were fictional, what happened to and around them was real. Shot in only first takes (mostly), with no written lines, the actors improvised, an improvisation based on such a solid characterological material that it made every member of Anghelescu family real and convincing. Each one of them had a history, had memories, the twins had an 18 years old birthday party, had their own interior reasons to do what they did, to act and react as they did. The actors had to build their characters, to shape them, to understand and find reasons, to support their characters in the heated arguments with the others.

So, the film is much more than incest or abortion, but these two themes added an extra flavour, not because of their (more or less) taboo nature, but because those are issues that raise problems. When facing a situation of this sort, one starts balancing one’s beliefs and ethics with reality. How far morality and (sometimes, prefabricated) principles go when reality stricks? And that is exactly what the characters do. They negotiate or try to, not only with one another but with themselves. They adapt, they accept… or not, they try to cope, each of them in their own way with the situation and they add it to their experience baggage.

Illegitimate is a film about choices, decisions and personal reasons. Victor’s (Adrian Titieni) attitude towards abortion changes 180 degrees when it comes to his two youngest children. From his pro-life vehement arguments, stated in the context of the abortion-banning between 1966 and 1989, when he as a gynaecologist refused to perform abortions, to demanding his daughter to have an abortion, because morally, for him, abortion is more acceptable than incest (and incest itself is acceptable but only as long as it has no “outcomes”). And then there’s Romeo (Robi Urs) who supports the women’s right over their own body until his own baby might be the victim. And Sasha (Alina Grigore), caught in the middle of the exterior and interior conflict, between feelings and reason, between choices and fears.

The film is not easy to watch, it is not #aSundayfilm. It’s intense, conflicting, tense and dense. It’s everyone’s story, everyone’s problems, everyone’s anger and love, and the incestuous relationship on top of them.  And in the end, by offering a possible (the most unlikely) ending, it reminds the viewers that it is a film. An ending that seems artificially added, that wraps everything up in a mirrored scene of the beginning. The baby lives, maybe in reality, maybe in an alternate reality, maybe in a film. In the end, the film reminds its viewers that it’s a film, a construction, that turns around and gazes to its public, and “reality” finally meets fiction on Beethoven’s notes in a final happy family portrait (but everybody’s wearing black).

Review by Maria Mantaluta

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