Family Fortunes: Romania's The Happiest Girl in the World
One of the notable strands of Thessaloniki is its Balkan Survey section, which this year featured 15 films from countries including Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Turkey, often co-productions with other European industries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland (and in the case of one, Katalin Varga, with a British director at the helm, Peter Strickland), as well as a focus on Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic (Time of Miracles). It’s an area I know next to nothing about, so I was really looking forward to exploring its cinema, but at the end of the day, regrettably, I only caught one film, which is a double shame, because Romanian director Radu Jude’s The Happiest Girl in the World (Cea mai fericita fata din lume) was perhaps the freshest, most memorable work I saw during the festival.
Radu Jude’s The Happiest Girl in the World (Cea mai fericita fata din lume)
Now, cynics might argue that with substantial funding from the Netherlands, films such as The Happiest Girl in the World, like the European-financed Iranian titles that we get to see in the West, do not perhaps give the truest portrait of life in the country where they are filmed, nor reflect local viewing habits, but instead skew their reality to fit the tastes of foreign festival or arthouse audiences (Just a quick note following on from the comment posted below by the film’s producer; at 10% of the budget, the funding from the Netherlands can’t really be considered that ‘substantial’ – I stand corrected). There might be something in this, but there’s a couple of points that are worth bearing in mind. Firstly, with the relatively small populations of most of the countries in the Balkan region (although with 21 million people living within its borders, Romania is considerably larger than others in the area, with Bucharest the sixth largest city in the European Union), many of the local industries face considerable difficulties maintaining their share of the local market and are reliant on such co-production deals. Secondly, while this particular film offers a critique of the rampant consumerism of a country in which free-market economics is still a relatively new phenomenon, the predicament of Delia Fratila, the unlikely heroine of The Happiest Girl in the World, shouldn’t be too difficult for most viewers to identify with.
Vasile Muraru delivers some fatherly advice to Andreea Bosneag
The film naturalistically documents a particular traumatic day in the life of its 18-year-old protagonist, a day which, by rights, should be cause for celebration. Delia has just won a car in a national competition held by a refreshments company after sending in three juice-bottle labels, and arrives in Bucharest with her parents in tow from the small rural town where they live. Like the other winners she gets to star in the company’s new advertising campaign, appearing alongside her prize while glugging from a bottle of orange juice while delivering the lines “I’m the happiest, luckiest girl in the world.” As soon as she arrives on set however, she starts bickering with her parents, who wish to sell the car and invest the profits in a guest house.
Violeta Haret and Andreea Bosneag
This is basically all there is to the film, which unfolds virtually in real time, as Delia is not only subjected to the haranguing of her domineering mother and father, but as the fading light ups the pressure to wrap the shoot, the director of the advertisement, who in turn is struggling to get his job done under the watchful and often disruptive gaze of the marketing agents that commissioned the campaign.It might sound like a slender premise, but the performances, particularly Andreea Bosneag’s beleaguered central turn, make for surprisingly compelling and often laugh-out-loud-funny viewing, as Delia is forced to perform take after take after failing to deliver her lines with the necessary gusto or fluffing them completely under the stress. Halfway through, someone notices that the orange juice drink doesn’t look suitably, well, ‘orange’, and so the insipid-looking tartrazine-yellow liquid is adulterated with a dash of Coca Cola for the cameras.
The glamorous life of Delia Fratila (Andreea Bosneag)
It’s the basic simplicity of the idea and the mise-en-scene that really impressed me, with most of the action unfolding on the shooting set in the heart of town; one assumes that most of the people milling around in the background must have thought that a genuine commercial was being shot, not a dramatic feature. For me, this is one of the must-see films of the year. It has already played a number of festivals across the world since its premier at Berlin in February – yes, Toronto again, but also London Film Festival and Bristol’s Encounters, about the same time as Thessaloniki, which shows that there’s a print in the UK at the moment, and its undoubtedly gearing up for a bigger release over here. Ok, so Romanian films might not exactly be everyone’s idea of mainstream entertainment, but anyone with a genuine interest in cinema and its numerous possibilities will most certainly want to check this out.
The Happiest Girl in the World
Interest parties can watch the trailer on youtube and read an interview with the director from its Toronto screening on IndieWIRE.