Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Stone Wedding (1972)

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 mi
ll 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


  1. Wow. Series on Romanian cinema? I've barely seen Romanian films. I remember you had once mentioned about your Romanian connection. This is going to another series I'll be keeping my eyes open for.

    This is a movie I've never heard of. Wonderful stuff. Thanks for the recommendation, Stephen.

  2. Thanks, JAFB.

    Yes, I'm half Romanian. I'm pretty clueless when it comes to Romanian films myself but I'm trying to change that. It's nice to be able to explore a 'foreign' style / culture / tradition without any barriers to understanding.

    I couldn't track down this film on DVD. It is a real shame but understandable that these older films don't appear to be the priority of Romanian production companies. I saw it on YouTube. It doesn't have subtitles (thankfully I can understand Romanian) but there really is very little dialogue and it's well worth it.

  3. Actually, I was inspired to begin this because we have just got a satellite system that catches two Romanian channels and Romanian TV is, I'm glad to say, largely unreliant on imported shows or films (unlike most other countries).

    Every week there's a good selection of films from the 50s onwards.

  4. What with Romanian cinema coming into prominence in the last few years with the celebrated 4 MONTHS 3 WEEKS 2 DAYS and this year's POLICE ADJECTIVE (the latter by a director who has done some other fine work)it's certainly an interesting proposition to examine some of the earlier films, even those shown on television, and I salute you for this resolve.

    Comparable to Bela Tarr, eh? Wow.

  5. Thank you, Sam.

    I still haven't got to see Police, Adjective.

  6. I first heard music from Roumania ('70s) when Zamfir was actually making interesting ensemble music and albums were being smuggled out of the country.

    Their music is amazing and these films, which I have never heard of, sound like an interesting watch also.

    Thanks & Cheers!

  7. My pleasure, Coffee Messiah.

    "I first heard music from Romania ('70s) when Zamfir was actually making interesting ensemble music and albums were being smuggled out of the country."

    Wow. I wasn't around then. Is there any other Romanian music you remember or admire?

    As for his film work, Gheorghe Zamfir's playing of Ennio Morricone in Once Upon A Time in America is wonderful.

  8. Sadly, nothing in particular. Since I listen to many types of music, my library has a lot of international/world music. Zamfir has done some interesting work, but his early ensemble is his best, in my opinion anyway.

    You're just a kid ; ) Radio back then, FM/Underground was innovative and all over the map with introducing music from all types, without commercial breaks every 3 minutes.


  9. Nice blog you have, thanks for posting