A Romanian teenager in love fights like a lioness to keep another girl away from her newly conquered village Casanova in the aptly title The World Is Mine (Lumea e a mea). This is the feature debut of promising directorial newcomer Nicolae Constantin Tanase and screenwriter Raluca Manescu, who clearly have an eye for feminine bonds and power dynamics. With the handheld camera practically shoved in the faces of the female leads, who deal with the pangs and pains of love and growing up, there’s more than a touch of Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color to the proceedings. At the same time, this is clearly the work of rookie filmmakers rather than an impressively sustained state of grace from a veteran director.
That said, the intensity of the performances and the overall energy impress and it’s refreshing to see a Romanian film that can stand on its own, an almost guaranteed international interest in the (very different) Romanian New Wave be damned. After its world premiere at the Transylvania International Film Festival, where it won the Romanian Days best first film accolade, World made its international bow at Karlovy Vary.
An intense, female-driven debut feature (directed by a man).
As an adolescent, Larisa (Ana Marian Guran) has more responsibilities than perhaps she should have, as she’s charged with cleaning and looking after her ailing grandmother, who’s bedridden and wasting away in a dark room from which all life seems to have already disappeared (production designer Adeline Badescu is responsible for the sets). Her stepdad is loud and abusive and Larisa’s mother is so certain grandma will never get out of bed again that she’s already started to give away her clothes, which Larisa finds unfathomable.
But the friction between mother and daughter over grandma is nothing compared to the female infighting that goes on at school after Larisa finally hooks up with the hunky Florin (Florin Hritcu). A cocky stud who offers Larisa the chance to experiment with the opposite sex, Florin also indirectly provides her with a much-needed morale boost, as he’s widely considered a desirable property. Hritcu oozes manly gumption and sex in that pure, undiluted, late-adolescence kind of way that indirectly suggests he’ll be the smug, I-don’t-care owner of a bald head and a beer belly a few years down the road. But for now, he’s so desirable, that Ana (Iulia Ciochina), the school’s queen-bee (mainly because of her family connections), thinks nothing of mistreating Larisa to make sure she understands she needs to leave Florin alone. Thankfully, Larisa has two girlfriends (Oana Rusu, Ana Vatamanu) she can fall back on — at least, most of the time.
Though much of the narrative covers very familiar ground, the roving handheld camerawork by cinematographer Daniel Kosuth, with its countless extreme closeups, gives the material some much-needed freshness and urgency while also foregrounding the extremely vigorous and committed performances of the leads, and there isn’t a false note in the ensemble.
Though the elements are sometimes somewhat awkward maneuvered into place, some individual scenes provide highlights: A sequence of the three girlfriends at the seaside, enumerating the qualities they’re looking for in a man, impresses with its feminine us-against-the-world energy. And a make-out session featuring Larisa and Florin — and shot so close to the actors’ faces and hard-working tongues, one half expects to leave the theater covered in spit — conveys vital information about not only the protagonist’s pubescent desire for intimacy and experimentation but also visually suggests Larisa’s eagerness to grow up and be her own woman, because this would allow her to leave her dire family situation behind and become independent. The scene is especially powerful in hindsight, when compared to a scene, much later in the film, when the two finally have sex. It’s impressive to see to what extent character informs both scenes, as clearly the reasoning behind their physical actions in the two scenes are very different, and while never overtly spelled out, they come through loud and clear.
Rather unusually, World was produced without any financial state aid but still looks like a million bucks (but reportedly cost about a fifth of that amount). There are several special effects shots, all involving water, that don’t seem to have suffered at all from the film’s tight budget and are impressively staged, though on a purely narrative level, they somewhat awkwardly strain for effect and meaning. Somewhat similarly, the character of Florin isn’t fluidly integrated into the overall story. While he has the right to change his mind or even betray Larisa and the film doesn’t necessarily need to reveal his psychology — since the story stays close to Larisa’s point of view, for whom some of his behavior may come as a shock — the moments Florin pops up now are too driven by the necessity to move the story forward and keep potential conflicts brewing.
But overall, this is an impressive feature debut for both Tanase and Manescu, who earlier collaborated on several shorts.
Production companies: Libra Film, Defilm
Cast: Ana Maria Guran, Iulia Ciochina, Oana Rusu, Ana Vatamanu, Florin Hritcu
Director: Nicolae Constantin Tanase
Screenplay: Raluca Manescu
Producers: Tudor Giurgiu, Radu Stancu
Director of photography: Daniel Kosuth
Production designer: Adeline Badescu
Editor: Ion Tanase
Music: Vlaicu Golcea
No rating, 104 minutes