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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2021 Competition

Review: Blue Moon

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- Rising Romanian talent Alina Grigore delivers a fine dramatic exercise that draws a parallel between the moon and lunacy

Review: Blue Moon
Ioana Chitu in Blue Moon

Blue has recently been described as the warmest colour, but its musical sense, especially historically, tends towards melancholy: see Kind of Blue, Blue Note and dozens more. Alina Grigore, the talented writer-director of the San Sebastián competition-premiering film Blue Moon [+see also:
trailer
interview: Alina Grigore
film profile
]
, must have guessed its title would immediately remind viewers of the deathless American popular song penned by Rodgers and Hart; indeed, it actually refers to a Romanian ballad sung a cappella by a key character in the latter stages. But for a better picture of Grigore’s film, imagine a jazz ensemble playing a rowdily discordant, uptempo version of the former track, its aggressive performances like unpredictable, wailing brass solos.

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Grigore has been involved as an actress in works by Romanian New Wave luminaries such as Cristi Puiu, but her own filmmaking takes some aspects familiar from that movement and runs with them in a novel direction. There isn’t a deadpan sense of humour, nor a focus on corruption or bureaucracy, but the ambivalence that Romanian filmmakers have expressed towards the country’s neoliberal direction is there, coupled with a teasing sense of social discord. Blue Moon is impressive not just for being a raw portrait of a troubled family, but also for showing how their unhappiness is intertwined with their turbulent business interests – in other words, it’s not just who you are, but how you earn.

Although her plotting gets stretched and clotted in the final act, Grigore deserves credit for how she generates empathy and establishes stakes for her lead character, the early-twenty-something Irina (steadfastly played by Ioana Chitu). Her situation is unique: the designation seems ad hoc and unofficial, but most of her working hours are taken up balancing the books for her family’s resort and property business, while her cousins Liviu (Mircea Postelnicu) and Sergiu (Mircea Silaghi) act as the outward, deal-making face. Her mild-mannered, divorced father – somewhat loving but not sufficiently present – is in London, leaving her aunt and uncle to assume paternal roles. Irina wants to properly commence her higher-education studies in Bucharest, but her extended family draws her back into the fold; her external demeanour at their tense, alfresco lunches is clenched silence, but we can tell that within, she’s screaming, which instead is what most of her relatives tend to do for real.

At a house party – providing some brief respite from the familial-professional chaos – Irina is sexually assaulted: the awful culprit is the married actor Tudor (Emil Mandanac), who has sex with her after she blacks out, drunk. Yet arraigning and punishing Tudor isn’t where Grigore decides to take the plot (instead, their relationship actually develops in a surprisingly forgiving manner). For sure, from the initial narrative baseline of this screwed-up brood, which expertly and unforgivingly puts the viewer right into their toxic dynamic, Grigore becomes more uncertain about how to wrap up the tale with appropriate catharsis. It has something to do, if we can decipher the barraging dramaturgy of screams, with adoption and infertility on the part of Sergiu, but its ultimate effect and uplift is seeing Irina emerge from her skin. Maybe not with the mercilessness to fully shove off her pesky para-family, but the gusto to stand up tall and for her dignity. Whilst not autobiographical, it also feels like a personally raw gesture from Grigore herself.

Blue Moon is a Romanian production staged by InLight Center, and co-produced by Atelier de FilmForest FilmUnfortunate ThespiansSmart Sound Studios and Avanpost. Patra Spanou Film represents itsworld sales.

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