Aferim! (2015)

Directed by Radu Jude
Country: Romania / others

Wittily co-written and passionately directed by Radu Jude, “Aferim!”, is an extremely entertaining historical adventure, set in Eastern Europe in 1835, that gallops at an effortless pace and carries death, sickness, greediness, and punishment in considerable amounts to grab your senses in several ways.

The filming locations are superb, providing the perfect background for the incredible black-and-white canvases created under the supervision of the competent director of photography, Marius Panduru. This prophetic manhunt, occurring in the idyllic surroundings of Romania’s Wallachia, is simultaneously eventful, chatty, outlandish, and grotesque in its very own way. Its characters are wonderfully sarcastic, moving in idiotic, toadying, and peremptory manners that can be considered equally stupid and funny.

The tale follows Wallachia’s constable, Costandin (Teodor Corban), a preachy lawkeeper who sets off on a peculiar journey, crossing the borders of his dominion in the company of his only son, Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu), to chase down Carfin (Toma Cuzin), a gipsy slave on the run, who was accused not only of stealing from his master, the wrathful boyar, Iordache Cindescu (Alexandru Dabija), but also of sleeping with his wife. Costandin boasts about being just and honest, always having words of wisdom on the tip of his tongue for each situation, and trying to instill the same astute spirit in his nitwitted son, who plays the innocent observer and learner. However, the truth is very far from what Costandin shows off. Along the journey he accepts bribes to let go the wrong man caught; he helps a Catholic priest and agrees with his chauvinistic sermon against all nations except Romania; he leaves a wounded man dying in the middle of the forest, stating that fear is a God’s gift; he negotiates outside the law with rulers and informers; he then kidnaps and sells a frightened kid who’s fed up of being beaten up by his masters; he urges his son to go with a whore after promising to drown him in the case he’s a sodomite; and finally, he returns the innocent Gipsy to the boyar, who castrates him in front of everybody.

For different reasons, the film’s tones brought to my mind the Hungarian classic, “The Red and the White”, and the Russian “Hard to be a God”, which are denser and less fluid than this one. Almost insultingly, Mr. Jude builds a hilarious satire that unreservedly mocks the human values, ethnicities, and the society itself. Pleasurable for the viewer, this manhunt ends up in a disillusion for the protagonists.