“237 Years” is Ioana Mischie’s second short film that had its first festival bow at this year’s Palm Springs International Short Film Festival and is inspired by an expanded feature project previously developed at many festival workshops. A social-realist drama with a darkly comical twist, it is a clever, inspiring and personal interpretation of real-life events.
A community in the remote village of Catane in Romania applied for disability support funding from the State in order to be exempt from taxes. But now, the group of villagers is being thoroughly investigated by an evaluation commission. The group, with their charismatic mayor as leader, succeeds in defeating an absurd socio-political system with its own weapons, thus setting an example for society and teaching the world a lesson.
“A comedy about sorrow and a drama about happiness,” in the words of the director herself, “237 Years” is crafted very much in the style and tradition of Romanian New Wave hits like for instance Cristi Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” but with a lighter tone. However, on a slightly wider level, “237 Years” is a highly Balkanic story with a Balkanic feel and an atmosphere reminiscent of those conjured by Emir Kusturica in his films. But, the atmosphere here is also very personal and created by Mischie thanks to her own strong local roots, personal experiences and a unique and clear vision. This vision is extremely deftly conveyed on the screen not only thanks to her precise and confident directing but also thanks to the masterful creation of a coherent, cohesive and believable/real cinematic universe – a village in the Romanian countryside where the wisdom of its simple people shines through as well as their ability to improvise, create and find inventive ways to survive and keep their traditions alive.
The part where the mayor asks the inspector “And what would be the noble reason for paying a tax, inspector?” is perhaps the most symptomatic and truthful of all, thus summarizing the feelings of most probably the entire world’s population and the corruption of bureaucratic systems. But here, corruption and compassion end up going hand in hand and that is what gives the film a special touch. The villagers are not doing this because they are greedy or to get rich but because there is no other way to survive in a very absurd and bureaucratic system. Indeed, the talented Romanian newcomer has also managed to successfully create colorful characters that inspire solidarity and empathy, inspiring us to root for them… And, they all deliver excellent performances.
On a purely technical level, the film is an utter accomplishment. Viorel Sergovici’s cinematography is outstanding with a crisp lensing and a yellow-ish color palette, an adequate use of slow motion and geometrically composed shots. Taraf de Haiduks and Elena Vasilache’s music is entertaining, immediately drawing us in and perfectly blending in the atmosphere while helping create it at the same time.
Mischie uses all the resources at her disposal but never goes overboard in the display of her evident directing skills. With this delightful and irreverent farce she proves that her short film is not only great addition to the already wide/extensive roster of Romanian talent but also to the thriving Romanian and international (short) film scene. I am enchanted.
Production: Légende Films, Icon Films (France/Romania 2016). Producers: Alma Bacula and Alain Goldman. Director: Ioana Mischie. Screenplay: Ioana Mischie. Cinematography: Viorel Sergovici. Music: Taraf de Haiduks and Elena Vasilache. Production Design: Andreea Gherghe. Costume design: Oana Draghici. Editing: Bogdan Orcula
Cast: Mircea Andreescu (Nea Pamfil, the Mayor), Alexandru Georgescu (Inspector Mitrea), Iulia Lumare (Magda, the inspector’s assistant), Cristian Beta (Silviu, the inspector’s assistant), Corneliu Ulici (Anton, the hunter), Silvia Helena Schmidt (Ileana, the doctor), Ion Sora (Vasile, the Carpenter), Thomas Otto Ghelo (Ionica), Titina Paun (Marita), Bianca Tomas (Siamese twin), Rebeca Tomas (Siamese twin), Mughi (the dog)
Color – 23 min.
Premiere: 23 June 2016 (Palm Springs International Short Film Festival)