Beyond the Eastern Bloc: The Best of Moldovan Film
Moldova is often overshadowed by its larger and more prosperous neighbours, who dwarf its cultural output and financial clout. This has impeded the development of a national film industry and led to many Moldovan filmmakers emigrating. Despite this, several Soviet gems and more recent co-productions have been made, which provide valuable insight into the country’s past and present.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Moldova’s subsequent independence in 1991, the country’s national film industry has been somewhat diminished. Even during the heyday of its most recognised studio ‘Moldova-Film’, Moldova tended to only produce twelve feature films a year. Directors such as Emil Loteanua took their talents to more prosperous regions of the Eastern Bloc in order to ensure more funding, creativity, and audience figures. Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is one of the economically poorest countries in Europe, which can obviously lead to a lack of funding for cinematic outputs. Nevertheless, some filmmakers have managed to make films about Moldova and have developed co-productions which highlight the unique qualities of this Eastern European country and celebrate its culture, history and people.
Writer and director Emil Loteanua is one of the most beloved figures in cinema within his native country of Moldova. This can be seen through the number of ways in which his works have been depicted within the public sphere, for example on a number of the country’s stamps. Lautarii (Fiddlers) is one such postal effigy. The film focuses on Toma Alistair (Sergei Lunkevich) a quick fingered Romanian violinist. With his famed band of travelling troubadours he scours the high courts and royal palaces of Europe’s elite in the hopes of being reunited with his lost love, Leanaca (Galina Vodnyatskaya). The film itself is a homage to Moldova and Romania’s rich and vibrant cultural heritage which has been historically intertwined. Indeed, two thirds of Moldovans are of Romanian descent and their languages share countless similarities. Ultimately, a wonderful foot stomping score from Eugen Doga, and Loteanu’s melodramatic flourishes, make it difficult to resist this Soviet classic.
Queen of the Gypsies (1976)
When Emil Loteanu’s tenth feature, Queen of the Gypsies, was released in 1976 it became the most attended film in the Soviet Union with over 64 million tickets sold. The story chronicles an epic and tragic love affair between the rebellious Roma girl Rada (Svetlana Toma) and smouldering horse thief Zobar (Grigore Grigoriu), set in early 20th Century Austro-Hungarian Bassarabia (now Moldova). Once again Loteanu revels in a typically romanticised view of Romani life popularised by the work of Soviet social realist authors such as Maxim Gorky, on whose work the script is loosely based. The protagonists are treated as mysterious nomads. Endearingly they are vividly brought to life in a colourful array of traditional dress, superstition, magic, music, and dance; all of which is swathed in layers of kitsch 1970s aesthetics.
Wedding in Bessarabia (2009)
The wedding in question in this film concerns the nuptials between a music conductor called Vlad from Bucharest and a gifted pianist named Vica from Bessarabia. Hoping to start their new life together in the apartment of their dreams they plan a second wedding in Vica’s native homeland in the hope of receiving lucrative gifts from dutiful relatives. Consequently the ceremony and its traditions become a catastrophic battle ground between the couple’s respective Moldovan and Romanian clans. Quite literally a culture clash film; Nap Toader’s second feature is a comical, contemporary look at ethnic relations between two countries with a tumultuous past. Foreign audiences may therefore miss some of the references to the confrontational history of Romanian and Moldova. Regardless of this, Wedding in Bessarabia is a satisfyingly humours romp with enough witty dialogue to make it relevant to those with little knowledge of the region’s dynamics.
Mama Illegal (2011)
Mama Illegal documents a seven year period in the life of three Moldovan cleaning ladies living and working illegally in Austria and Italy. Essentially these women remain invisible; they earn a living by cleaning toilets, making beds, and scrubbing floors in affluent European homes of which they rarely meet the people that employ them. All three women are mothers, and abject poverty and pandemic unemployment have forced them to leave behind their home and families in order to provide for them. With every passing year the bond between them and their loved ones grows increasingly more distant. Investigative journalist and director Ed Moschitz explores this heartbreaking subject with an extraordinary commitment that produces revelatory results. By voicing the fears and concerns of these marginalised individuals he resolutely brings a personal face to the topic of illegal immigration. Moschitz also highlights institutionalised social and political problems which are considered intractable aspects of contemporary Moldovan life.
Playing the Moldovans at Tennis (2012)
Playing the Moldovans at Tennis is the unbelievable true story of British comedian Tony Hawks’ bet that he could beat the 1997 national Moldovan football team with racket and ball after watching them lose 4-0 to England at his local pub. Hawk’s bizarre quest is undeniably joyous, feel good, and affirming whilst also clearly personal. He produced and directed the film himself out of his own pocket. The majority of proceeds from the film and the book that it’s based on have also gone towards the care centre for children in the capital of Chişinău which Hawks set up after being confronted with the harsh realities of Moldovan life. It’s clear from the film that the fall out of communism and subsequent embrace of the free market has left many of Moldova’s poorest citizens completely cut off in a country which is considered Europe’s poorest. Playing the Moldovans at Tennis can be viewed online for free or in exchange for a donation through its website.
By Marcus Clark