At first blush the least Romanian of the Romanian New Wavers, Radu Jude's new film is in no way a steely-eyed, ultra-realist, uninflected working-class trudge, and the cranial wounds of Eastern European Communism are yet a gleam in the characters' eyes. Rather, more acutely than The Hateful Eight, Aferim! is a comic western – complete with period-drama frontier-ness, poky horse ridin', bounty hunters and an Anthony Mann-ish love for scrubby mountain landscapes. The particulars emerge gradually: It's post-medieval (early 1800s, actually) Wallachia, and the two chatty riders we meet are mercenary "constables" traversing a peasant landscape of plague, frontier justice and gypsy slaves.
Shot in spectral widescreen black and white, Jude's movie (a
Everything is for sale — humans, justice, truth — and everything, even the capture of the errant slave, is done with a weary shrug.
The experience is almost early Jarmuschian. As the road movie boomerangs back, with Toma Cuzin's fugitive bent over the horse with his gunshot ass in the air, the repartee is now a three-way debate (plus a gabby preteen orphan stolen and then sold at market, because why not?), and Lima-syndrome sympathy for the doomed man quietly grips the constables. But getting the scalawag off is a tough sell, even if the boyar's wife is nutty; the law is in the nobleman's hands, and every scabrous bon mot and blithe rationale for slavery we hear is saturated with macho presumptions about class and power that haven't really gone away.
Jude, a New Wave stalwart since his unforgettable short The Tube with a Hat (2006) won virtually every festival prize there is, coolly resists any portent about how the journey might resolve – we fear the worst, and get it, in a typically offhand Romanian way. (By that time, the affirmative Ottoman exclamation "Aferim!", meaning "bravo!
Starring Teodor Corban, Mihai Comanoiu, and Toma Cuzin. Directed by Radu Jude. 108 minutes. Not rated. Opens Friday, March 4, at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood (2008 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 954-525-3456; fliff.com) and Lake Worth Playhouse (713 Lake Ave., Lake Worth; 561-586-6169; lakeworthplayhouse.org).