Portrait of the Fighter an exercise in dedication at TIFF
by Stefan Dobroiu
Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man, in the Romanian Days competition at this year's Transylvania International Film Festival (May 28-June 6), ends with a dedication “to the dedicated”. This choice of words is appropriate, the dedication being both a highlight of the protagonists' exemplary destinies and a warning to the dispassionate viewer: the film is too long (163 minutes) and monotonous to appeal to those who are not specifically interested in this dark period of Romania's history.
Constantin Popescu's debut feature, after the collective Tales From the Golden Age [+see also:
film profile], tells the story of the young Romanian fighters in the group led by Ion Gavrila Ogoranu, one of the most famous leaders of anti-communist resistance, who kept his ground in the Fagaras mountains from 1944-57, against the cold, hunger, treason, wounds and an increasing number of army raids. Together with his brothers-in-arms Leu, Brancoveanu, The Teacher and others, Ogoranu fought against the huge prison into which the communists turned Romania. Helped by the peasants and hunted by the Securitate, these heroes begun a long, tense cat-and-mouse game with the army, dreaming of the day the Americans would arrive and liberate the entire country.
Based on years of extensive research, Popescu's film sheds light on a part of the country's history that was carefully and thoroughly tampered with during the communist regime. The undertaking is enormously praiseworthy, but Portrait perhaps should have been a documentary and not a feature film. A long succession of dramatically identical armed encounters with the army alternate with tense moments of waiting, which makes the film feel like a mere review of important moments in the lives of Ogoranu and his partners. The director's choices may bring historical depth, but they also refuses the protagonists a status they deserve: that of film heroes and not simply reproductions of historical personalities.
Long sequences of speeches by Securitate officers and communist leaders create ever more distance between the viewer and the story, and the film’s ending will leave audiences with a vital question that, unfortunately, remains unanswered: “Who were these people and what did they fight for?” Also surprising is a legal disclaimer in the end that states that, although the research for Portrait was thorough, any resemblance to real events is coincidental and unintentional. It follows footage of the real Ogoranu, who was caught by the communist authorities much later, in 1976.
Popescu's film premièred in the Berlinale's Forum section in February and won the Audience and Best Cinematography awards at the Buchar-EST International Film Festival in April. The film was produced by Filmex and is sold internationally by Coach 14. It will be domestically released in October.
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