Aferim!

Aferim! poster

Aferim! movie poster

With its black and white cinematography and its simple premise – a constable and his son are looking for a runaway gipsy slave -, Aferim! feels like a transposition of a vintage western set in 19th century Romania.  Throughout most of the movie, we follow the two protagonists’ straightforward adventure:  We see them riding horses through hills and forests, stop at hostels and, more importantly, we witness their various encounters including a dirty-mouthed priest and a whore servicing both father and son.

Of course, you could argue that it sounds like a typical journey in the West but once you look – or should I say listen? – closely, beyond the surface, you quickly realize that the dialogues between the characters are the essence of Aferim! Taking on subjects as diverse as Gypsies, Jews, homosexuality, the world being flat, justice, corruption, unfaithfulness, Radu Jude’s movie offers a cynical and amusing portrait of ignorance and 19th century beliefs. Most of the verbiage is delivered through the constable Costandin (Teodor Corban), his son Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu) and their prisoner Carfin (Toma Cuzin) but other characters such as a priest also contribute their share of nonsense. Bringing an extra dose of realism to the filmmaker’s message, It should also be noted that the end credits inform us that some of these diatribes were actual dialogues from this period.

What’s striking is that they pretty much all see themselves as fair human beings, even if it means selling a young boy as a slave or savagely punishing somebody who scorned you. What seemed normal back then would certainly be considered barbaric by today’s standards – at least in civilized countries – and the way Mr. Jude tackles these absurd beliefs provides both comic relief and shocking values.  The humor however disappears when the end comes, cruelty taking over to leave you on a bitter note symbolizing these dark times.

The black and white cinematography not only symbolizes the austerity of the era but also makes Aferim! look like an old Akira Kurosowa (Seven Samourai), John Ford (The Searchers) or Andrei Tarkovski (Andrei Rublev) movie. The filmmakers however wisely refrain to aestheticize their black and white vision, as beauty would have contradicted what they are trying to express.

While Mr. Jude’s movie focuses on portraying a specific place and time, it would however be a mistake to reduce it to just another historical piece as some of its content is, regrettably, still relevant today. I’m, of course, referring to offensive tirades against religions, races, women and sexual orientations which are still being echoed in our modern society. As for cruel punishments, we know they are still being exerted in some dark parts of the world.

Disguised as an unassuming genre film, Aferim! scrutinizes old, disgraceful moral standards to deliver a corrosive reflection of our world.

Director: Radu Jude – Actors: Teodor Corban, Mihai Comanoiu – Running Time: 1h 48 – Year: 2015 – Country: Romania
Click here to watch the Aferim! trailer
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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.