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VENICE 2021 Giornate degli Autori

Review: Immaculate

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- VENICE 2021: Monica Stan and George Chiper-Lillemark tell a compelling story about lost innocence

Review: Immaculate

A drama set in the world of recovering drug addicts, Monica Stan and George Chiper-Lillemark’s fiction debut, Immaculate [+see also:
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, is meeting the international audience in the 18th Giornate degli Autori, the independent section of this year’s Venice Film Festival. The film tells the story of Daria (a very promising Ana Dumitraşcu), an 18-year-old heroin user who is sent by her mother to a rehab clinic.

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Inspired by Stan’s own experience, the film quickly establishes the protagonist as an innocent, shy girl who started injecting heroin because of her boyfriend, a drug addict. Daria has all the dreams that a dutiful daughter and student would have (taking her finals and studying for her college exam), but her existence is dramatically disrupted when her boyfriend is sentenced to four years in prison and her mother commits her to the clinic. This is precisely when we meet her, entering a world she is not at all familiar with.

We soon meet the other patients, a colourful gang with a specific pecking order. The leader seems to be Spartac (Vasile Pavel, the non-professional actor who debuted in Ivana Mladenovic’s Soldiers: Story from Ferentari [+see also:
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), a burly man and ex-convict who is the first to eye up Daria. As she is desperate to get a phone to call her boyfriend in prison, he asks for a kiss in return and is utterly surprised when she refuses. Daria’s innocence and loyalty to her partner make her special in the eyes of the other patients (who are mostly men, except for a woman played by Ilona Brezoianu, fresh from her main part in Radu Muntean’s Cannes-selected Întregalde [+see also:
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), but soon, the arrival of a new patient, Costea (Cezar Grumăzescu), will shake up the volatile relationships in the clinic.

Shot in a constrictive 4:3 format by Chiper-Lillemark (who started his career as a DoP, with such titles as the Berlinale Golden Bear winner Touch Me Not [+see also:
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in his filmography), Immaculate takes a lot of time to show how what may be a simple, kind gesture can turn into aggression in the blink of an eye. At one point, we see Daria being tickled by the other patients. She laughs at first, but soon, the tickling becomes brutal, and her laughter turns into a grimace. At another point, Spartac gives her chocolate, but he then forces her to eat the entire bar. And how can innocence survive in these conditions? How can anything remain immaculate here?

There is something both touching and repulsive in this bunch of addicts, all of them pariahs cornered by their addiction and forced into a hole, suffering from stigma and withdrawal symptoms, and perhaps secretly convinced that they will start using again as soon as their month in the clinic ends. Beautifully played by Bogdan Farcaş, Ionuţ Nicolae, Florin Hriţcu and others, they seem eager to see themselves through Daria’s wide eyes – perhaps her innocence, her chances of attaining a better future free of addiction will rub off on them, too. But, just as every addict is tempted to overdose, their relationship with Daria changes, too, becoming more intense, and even dangerous.

Immaculate could maybe have benefited from some tighter editing. In any case, it is a good example of Romanian cinema, which feels fresh even if it spent almost a decade in development. Coincidentally, the project was presented in Biennale College Cinema as early as 2013.

Immaculate was produced by Romania’s Axel Film and is being handled internationally by Syndicado.

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