What the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) offers this year

'Monstri.', a portrait of a strained marriage in modern-day Romania

A still from Monștri. , which is competing for the Centenary Award for the Best Debut Feature Film.

A still from Monștri. , which is competing for the Centenary Award for the Best Debut Feature Film.  

Marius Olteanu’s drama is among a few queer-themed films premiering at the 50th IFFI

Last year, Romanians were asked whether they wanted their constitution altered to specify that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. The rather expensive referendum failed because of a low turnout (turnout was less than 30% making the vote invalid), despite a push from the Orthodox Church. Marius Olteanu’s Monștri. (Monsters.), a one-day portrait of a strained marriage, is quite telling of this modern-day Bucharest, where social norms and pressures govern the union between two individuals.

Mr. Olteanu’s film, which had its India première at the International Film Festival of India in Panaji, has won the Centenary Award for the Best Debut Feature Film. Monstri. had its world premiere at the Berlinale Forum early this year. One of the most striking aspects of the film is its visual language. Narrated in three parts, the film is largely contained in a square aspect ratio in the first two parts, where the camera follows the wife and husband (Dana and Arthur) individually. The third part opens up the frame and brings in the two together. Mr. Olteanu’s aesthetic choice functions beyond sheer visual grammar to present a kind of curated reality we experience in the times of social media, where it’s not what’s in the frame but outside it, that’s of equal importance. “I am quite fascinated by the question, ‘what is missing?’,” said Mr. Olteanu, during a conversation in Goa. The focused frames, thus, aren’t only claustrophobic but also amplify the delicate terrain between vulnerability and strength, experienced by the two protagonists.

Marius Olteanu

Marius Olteanu  

At all times, the viewer is kept close to the characters, through intimately shot frames and sounds of the space that the characters inhabit, even when the camera moves away. Dana and Arthur are in a decade-long relationship but the film rarely mollycoddles its audience by over-explaining but instead chooses restraint over drama, even when bringing out the conflicts between the two. It’s amply clear that Arthur’s homosexual explorations and the social pressure on Dana to have a child, is what’s straining their marriage but the film also questions the philosophies of companionship and the imagination of love. In modern-day Bucharest, the film illustrates a discrepancy between legal freedom and social acceptance. “I interviewed married couples for the film, and because I spoke to them separately they were telling me things they wouldn’t tell each other, and I try to bring out that honesty,” shared Mr. Olteanu.

'Monstri.', a portrait of a strained marriage in modern-day Romania

Jayro Bustamante’s Temblores (Tremors), which also played at the IFFI, explores a similar thread of a marriage falling apart, but the Guatemalan writer-director chooses to draw the line between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ quite starkly, pushing the beautifully picturised narrative of a married queer man undergoing conversion therapy, into a perilously righteous terrain. It was, however, quite amusing to see a senior member of the audience pray over the protagonist on-screen, during the scene when he was undergoing ‘spiritual healing’ in a church. Moments like these, along with walkouts during queer sex scenes, compel you to draw parallels between an Evangelical Christian Guatemala, Orthodox Romania and a Catholic Goa.

Among other big-ticket queer-themed films at IFFI was Céline Sciamma’s Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), which won the Queer Palm at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Ms. Sciamma’s period drama, which had its India premiere at IFFI, is a delicately visualised film, bringing out the female desire, loneliness and longing in 18th century France.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 4:23:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/monstri-a-portrait-of-a-strained-marriage-in-modern-day-romania/article30089023.ece

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