Film Review: Arta

The films (both short and feature) of Romanian filmmaker Adrian Sitaru have flirted with many of the tenets of the so-called ‘Romanian New Wave’. Early works such as The Cage (a short which flourished on the festival circuit winning numerous awards) contained a strong realist aesthetic which beautifully conveyed the story of a father and son. But as his work has progressed, there have been more overtly stylistic touches added to his work. His (very underrated) feature film Best Intentionswas filmed almost entirely from the direct point of view of the main characters. But these touches never seemed gimmicky or forced and added a certain beauty to the realism on show.

In his latest short Arta – premiered in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival – Sitaru adds a touch of magical realism in a clever and self-reflexive film. The film follows director Emi as he interviews young teenager Anca in preparation for a film. But Anca’s mother is concerned about the possible sexual content of the film and Emi and his producer soon find themselves engaged in a complex debate about the nature of art, the realities of the filmmaking process and general morality.

This is an intensely playful affair that is in some ways aimed not only at a film literate audience but also at the industry in which Sitaru works (it’s hard not to notice some prominently placed festival catalogues as well as a background shot of a distinctively shaped award from the Vilnius Film Festival – at which Sitaru has happened to win Best Director for Best Intentions). Yet, for all its playfulness, the heart of the film is a moral debate about the ethics of exploiting someone in the name of art. It’s sometimes humorous – with Emi’s dreams of Cannes and artistic ideals shown up as somewhat pretentious – but there are moments when it is genuinely thought provoking. But while the film is very dialogue based – and it contains some very strong performances which helps carry the dialogue along – Sitaru does his usual excellent job of transcending the theatrical. These include a beautiful reveal shot which is cleverly done and the final moments of the film which give everything a slightly surreal and magical air.

In ArtaSitaru not only confirms his status as one of Romania’s most interesting contemporary directors but has created a film that plays with the conventions of filmmaking. It should prove popular on the festival circuit and may be picking up one or two awards – which Sitaru can undoubtedly put in his next film.

Title: Arta

Director: Adrian Sitaru

Year: 2014

Run time: 19’

Country: Romania

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05 September 2014, by Laurence Boyce