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SARAJEVO 2018 Competition

Review: One and a Half Prince

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- Ana Lungu’s third feature is a touching, if flawed, ode to friendship, screening in competition at Sarajevo

Review: One and a Half Prince
László Mátray in One and a Half Prince

After a compelling coming-of-age second feature, Self-Portrait of a Dutiful Daughter [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Romanian director Ana Lungu returns with a sequel of sorts, One and a Half Prince [+see also:
trailer
interview: Ana Lungu
film profile
]
, which is currently being screened in the official competition of the Sarajevo Film Festival. A story about friendship and how it can be jeopardised by a stronger feeling, the film is a touching exploration of how we are always better off in the company of friends we trust.

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The story centres on Iris (Iris Spiridon), a woman in mourning after the unexpected death of a friend. We see her at the cemetery, tending the grave, and then being cheered up by her close friend Marius (Marius Manole). It soon becomes clear that Iris and Marius share an apartment with their friend Istvan (István Téglás). Their happy cohabitation, full of laughs and the occasional quarrel, will be threatened when Iris is attracted to a writer, László (László Mátray), who owns a horse farm in Transylvania. 

Lungu’s approach to the story and the fact that the actors play fictitious versions of themselves attracts the audience into the midst of this trio, which feels so real that witnessing their interactions is more like an invitation into their house and their very lives. When they share the screen, we see how much they trust each other, how they are able to confess to each other (and the audience) their deepest desires and their deepest fears, and how their friendship makes them stronger, better prepared to face life’s various challenges. The death of a close friend, the conflict with a former spouse or strained relationships with co-workers all seem easier to deal with when Iris, Marius and István are together. Introducing a threat to all of this in the form of a handsome, talented (if unpopular) writer, whom Iris sees as the titular prince, will make the apparently inexpugnable edifice of their friendship shake and wobble. 

The film’s greatest strength is the chemistry between the protagonists (who are close friends in real life, too). Unfortunately, their extremely watchable relationship is less powerful whenever they interact with others. Lungu casts amateurs from Romania’s artistic world (choreographer Răzvan Mazilu, theatre director Radu Afrim and journalist Iulia Popovici, among others) as satellites of or sources of stress on the protagonists’ relationship. Unfortunately, their presence represents a string of false notes in the film’s symphony, ranging from shrill to awkward, and even just irrelevant. If the trio works smoothly (with a convincing addition by Mátray, though the film never becomes a quartet), the others’ interventions look like inside jokes from a world the audience actually has no access to.

László Mátray works excellently as Iris’ distraction. His presence in the story, which at a certain point will prompt the three protagonists to go and visit his horse farm in rural Transylvania, raises a series of topics that bring value to the story: first of all, our emotional fragility and the fragility of our relationships; and secondly, the fact that we always want more than, or at least something different to, what we already possess. His character and what the protagonists think of him offer a new perspective on the complicated dance between what we are, what we want to be, what others think we are and what others want us to be.

One and a Half Prince was produced independently by Mandragora. The film will be released domestically on 7 September.

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