Tuesday, 2 March 2010
Stone Wedding ('Nunta de Piatra') is a coupling of two short films based on the stories of Ion Agarbiceanu. The first half of the film is entitled 'Fefeleaga' and is directed by Mircea Veroiu. The second half is called 'At A Wedding' ('La O Nunta'). It is directed by Dan Pita...
The hard ground is chipped away by axes, men and women ants on the monolithic face of the quarry. Maria, her husband recently passed away and her teenage daughter gravely sick, takes the chunks of rock to a mill where they are churned into fine stones. Through attrition the rock is reduced and through attrition Maria is broken down with suffering. The sound of grinding is intermittently punctuated by a loud and unexpected noise - a bell, a neigh, a piece of machinery. Struggle and toil is the tapestry of her life, erratically embellished with tragedy.
A lady inn-keeper says to Maria with unaffected sympathy "You've only the little girl left". The bond between mother and daughter is deep. We see it in the way mother feeds daughter her medicine, the manner in which she strokes her daughter's horse (to be glimpsed emaciated and dirty in the second story) and in one breathtaking shot where they hold each other's gaze in a moment of piteous communion (below).
Her quiet helplessness and her loving, dignified endurance associates her with Mary, mother of God. The closer we get to God through Mircea Veroiu's stratospheric views the smaller she is, appearing cut off from salvation, dwarfed and engulfed by her environment. She chips away at it but the landscape is unmoveable and her life is unalterable. The weight of her burden, of the cross she has to bear, is illuminated in the extended uninterrupted shots and her slow grieving movements. At first the camera follows her spontaneously, fluid but reactive, until control is asserted and Maria is trapped within the prescribed frame in a deliberate pose or an iconic tableau.
Her daughter stays at home, diminished to a hollow listlessness like the dolls she walks in her pram or the mannequin hung up in a village shop doorway. Maria's mind is always on her daughter. We know it in the way the sounds of her surroundings disappear before we cut to her daughter at home. There her daughter looks through a cupboard of her father's things, a cupboard that may stand for a coffin.
These scenes unfold as though in Maria's mind's eye. Maria is watching her daughter and God is watching Maria. Both, despite all the heartache, can do nothing.
Fefeleaga can be compared to the work of Bela Tarr or Sharunas Bartas (both of whom came after) or, in some respects, Sergei Parajanov. The shots of village life recall the sepia assemblies of Wild West American photography. However, this first section of Stone Wedding is also unlike anything else, with Veroiu drawing from a deep well of tragic tradition with a heavy heart. It is, to be sure, a moving and impressive film.
* * *
The second part of Stone Wedding (directed by Dan Pita) is entitled At A Wedding. It is the story of two musicians (one a deserter) arriving to perform at a wedding in the same village. It has nowhere near the same impact as Fefeleaga but its ostensibly more upbeat, satirical approach hides a similarly black undercurrent.
At the reception one of them falls for the bride herself and, in Pasolini-esque close ups, they are caught in entranced mutual admiration. The whole world, including her husband, disappears but for the face of the other (right):
Eventually they run off together far from the cold rock into the resplendent grasses there to be hidden by outstretched and embracing branches. The other musician, the deserter, is left to receive the husband's wrath and, ironically, encounter the same demise he was trying to escape.
At A Wedding is a pleasant enough conclusion, Italianate in feel, that only touches the surface of its story, barely approaching the power of Fefeleaga. It does however share the same beautiful and beautifully appropriate music, half wailing half celebratory, of Dorin Liviu Zaharia and Dan Andrei Aldea.
This review is the first of an on-off series on Romanian Cinema