Blue Moon

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Blue Moon
"Chitu gives a quietly dignified performance, gradually letting us see Irina’s strength through her resilience." | Photo: courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

The old saying ‘in the country of the blind, the one eyed man is king’ has often be called into question, not least by HG Wells, who used a short story to point out that the one eyed man in that scenario is more likely to be thought mad or suspected of trickery. Romanian actress Alina Grigore’s first film as a director, which earned her the Concha de Oro at the San Sebastian Film Festival, has a heroine whose abilities far outshine those of her family members, but who is, as a consequence, treated like a servant. She is possessed of what, to them, may as well be a supernatural ability to understand numbers, so they depend on her to do the books at the mountain resort they run. For that reason, they have no intention of letting her govern her own life.

We are plunged into a story full of cruelty and chaos when Irina (Ioana Chitu) is awoken by a punch from her sister Viki (Ioana Ilinca Neacsu). Viki makes a point of being spectacularly horrible to everyone. It seems like a defence strategy in a world where women are seen as very much second class. The sisters live with their cousins Liviu (Mircea Postelnicu) and Sergiu (Mircea Silaghi), who officially run the business, plus an assortment of additional relatives. Their mother is only vaguely present, displaying the sort of distance and diffidence associated with prolonged exposure to trauma. Their father lives in London; during a visit we see him plead with Irina to join him (and her brother) there, but she’s reluctant, perhaps fearful that she would still end up under the control of a man. What she really wants is to go to Bucharest, live independently, and study.

A chance seems to present itself when, having stayed out all night at a party, Irina wakes up and is told that somebody had sex with her the night before. She tracks him down, discovering that he’s an actor, married and at least a decade her senior, called Tudor (Emil Mandanac). Although he insists that she didn’t seem that drunk at the time and certainly wasn’t unconscious, he worries that she wants to punish or blackmail him, but she wants something else: an emotionally uncomplicated affair and a sort of mentorship whereby she can turn to him for intellectual as well as sexual stimulation and can draw on his understanding of how the world works to facilitate her escape. It’s a mercenary arrangement which gradually gives way to tender friendship and opens her eyes to a new, more positive way of interacting with other people.

This journey of growth and discovery upsets Liviu, who can see her changing and demands to know the reason for it. He’s in the middle of trying to negotiate a business deal which he lacks the skills to fully understand, but when she tries to explain that he’s making a mistake, he gets angry and hits her. She is frequently subjected to violence, with Sergiu also dishing it out at times, though he seems to have more control over his actions; Liviu has a hair-trigger temper and lashes out on impulse. Speaking up too loudly, even in an effort to do her job, leads to Irina being told that she has no manners by the same man who will casually chase her across a field, watch her fall and then beat her whilst she’s on the ground. When she’s not being beaten, she’s being threatened with violence. Eventually Liviu’s behaviour will shatter the family.

A rattling percussion score speaks to the anxiety which this creates in Irina and the constant movement and urgency of the narrative, whose only quiet moments come when Irina is with Tudor, outside her familiar reality. Antisemitism and homophobia, as well as misogyny, stain the narrative, and there are also implications of class exploitation as Liviu goes looking for a woman who will sell her baby to his infertile brother – something to which he frequently makes reference as if to enhance his own status by comparison. Though it’s clear that Grigore does not condone any of this, it makes for uncomfortable viewing, as does the constant stress which practically every character is exhibiting. There’s a sense that somebody could fly off the handle at any time.

Amidst it all, Chitu gives a quietly dignified performance, gradually letting us see Irina’s strength through her resilience. Her stillness in a film full of noise and aggravation makes her naturally appealing to the viewer. Blue Moon is hard to watch at times, for multiple reasons, and Grigore doesn’t always have the skill to keep her complicated stories in order, but it reveals the kind of lives too rarely seen in cinema, too often endured in reality.

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2022
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A young woman struggles to access higher education and escape the violence of her dysfunctional family.

Festivals:

SSFF 2021
Glasgow 2022

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