Review: Licu, a Romanian Story
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Ana Dumitrescu's winner of a Golden Dove from DOK Leipzig, which examines how a nonagenarian looks at the world, is being shown at Astra, in the Mature View thematic sidebar
How does a nonagenarian look at the world and reminisce about life and history? Romanian-born French director Ana Dumitrescu's feature documentary Licu, a Romanian Story [+see also:
film profile], which won the Golden Dove at DOK Leipzig last year, is eager to answer these questions. The film is being screened at the 25th Astra Film Festival (15-21 October, Sibiu), in the Mature View sidebar. It is also competing in the Romanian competition, the awards for which will be announced on Saturday evening.
There is a Romanian saying that states, “He who doesn't have elders nearby should get some.” Licu, a Romanian Story is the cinematic equivalent of this saying, as it centres on an endearing and also very relevant protagonist, nonagenarian Liviu (or “Licu” for short) Canţer. Living in a tiny house in Sibiu, the hometown of Astra Film Festival, Licu opens up to Dumitrescu's camera, sharing his personal view on history, communism, love and loss, but also serving as an immensely interesting and serene crossroads between the small, individual history and the larger, national, universal one.
At a time when we seem so eager to look exclusively to the future, Licu gently tugs at our sleeve, implying that knowing and understanding the mistakes of the past could pave the way for a better tomorrow. Wisdom is gained through experience (and more often than not tragedy and loss), so the least we can do for Licu is to pay attention to him for a tad more than 80 minutes. With a life that has seen him gain first-hand experience of the tragedy of war, the anxieties and hardships of communism, the enthusiasm of the 1989 Revolution, the difficult transition to democracy and the fragile stability of the present, Licu definitely has a broader perspective on life and history than most of us.
But Licu, a Romanian Story is more than a long conversation about the past. Through Dumitrescu's keen eye and high-contrast, black-and-white images, the documentary constructs a charming space over which the frail, dignified Licu quietly reigns. At one point, he complains about being completely alone in the world. “They haven't lived that long,” he says about his dearly departed family and friends. But through the magic of cinema, the power of the senior's charming, heartfelt stories and the efficient use of some old pictures, the movie is populated with other characters. Loulou, Licu's wife, becomes the protagonist of a charming love story. Viorel, his brother, is the star of a tragedy. And Licu himself seems to be the hero of a decades-long adventure film, his survival every day sentencing him to a life of solitude.
There is a shot in which Licu is sleeping so peacefully that the fear creeps in that he may have died. As we see the man's hollow cheeks, we notice his dentures on the nearby nightstand. There is nothing exploitative or intrusive in this shot, because Dumitrescu's film doesn't shy away from reality: no matter how rich Licu's life has been, the end may be near. It is an invitation to carpe diem, to cherish every minute of our lives, but also to cherish something that may be lost soon – the wisdom of a man who has seen it all.
Licu may be old and his house may be dusty, but his dignity, courage, serenity and warmth are timeless.
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