Eye For Film >> Movies >> Strigoi (2009) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
According to director Faye Jackson, most people in Romania think their country's association with vampires is a bit of joke. It's all the more so because the Bram Stoker version of the bloodsucking fiend has little to do with the vampire myths that are actually familiar to them - tales of strigoi, who can be living or dead, greedy creatures who exploit those around them. Of course, Romania has experienced all sorts of exploitation over the course of its history, whether by aristocrats, Nazis, Communists or the capitalists who came after them. Jackson's inventive film brings these ideas together to take a playful look at the national character and the ways in which vampires can stand in for very human vices.
There was a Romanian woman in the audience when I watched this film; asked if she was offended, she said: "No - it's exactly like that." The character of the villages, that is, which, in turn, has something in common with small communities all around the world. There the old folk tales die hard and people live lives curiously balanced between modern rationality and ancient superstition. As the film opens we see a middle-aged couple murdered by a group of villagers on the advice of their priest.
It's a scene which mirrors the execution of the Ceausescus, mixing a sort of revolutionary fervour and pride with the pitiful sight of limp bodies falling to the ground. But this particular couple don't seem content to stay in the ground, and the villagers soon discover that you can't get rid of an idea just by burying it. You can't easily defeat human greed.
Greed is not a characteristic we immediately associate with young Vlad, the wide-eyed innocent returning home from a sojourn in Italy, despite his lustful appropriation of other people's cigarettes. Qualified as a doctor but not practising because, the villagers tell us, he's too much of a pussy, he becomes suspicious when coming across the funeral of a man he is told died accidentally but who seems to have bruises round his throat. The plot thickens when he discovers that his own name has been forged on the death certificate. Soon he finds himself caught up in a series of petty conflicts centered on two peasant obsessions - who owns the land and who owes familial allegiance to whom.
What makes this film a success is that it never comes across as patronising the colourful characters inhabiting the village, for all that it criticises them. Vlad's grandfather explains that he was born on his land, buried his parents and grandparents there, saw his children born there and cannot imagine it in the hands of someone else; it's as potent an argument as any for natural rights to property. We see how the rich exploit the difficulties of the poor and the corrupt nature of officialdom, but we also see the vicious glee with which the briefly liberated poor ransack the house of their victims. Perhaps there's a little bit of strigoi in everyone.
This film is steeped in Romanian tradition and there's a great sense of warmth within the village community even if we know that many people there are secretly at one another's throats. It's an affecting portrait of rural life mixed with political thriller and toothy vampire tale. Don't rely on garlic and crosses to help you here. In a place where allegiances shift as fast as bottles of vodka, the rules are always changing.Reviewed on: 23 Feb 2010
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