With the current crop of cinematic super turkeys gobbling up our screens, it was a refreshing antidote to watch this exceptionally well crafted little film. You have to admire the British director Peter Strickland for the courage of his convictions. Unable to fund his project in England, he financed it with his own inheritance. He then had the inspired idea of filming in Eastern Transylvania in Romania, where he was able to make the film for a very modest 30,000 euros. This was a tightrope walking act of faith that deserved success. Even so, I would not give a positive review on those facts alone. The truth is that the finished product speaks for itself. It is a triumph and a credit to Strickland. For his first feature length film this is a very assured debut indeed, and I hope Strickland is able to expand on this promising start.
This short film concerns a young mother's quest to exact vengeance on two men who raped her ten years before, causing her to become pregnant. Shunned by her husband when he learns the truth, she travels the Romanian countryside in pursuit of the two men responsible. But this film does not follow any predictable Hollywood format. It is much more subtle than that. The films atmosphere reminded me much of the novels of Thomas Hardy, whose work it should be warned was not noted for happy endings. The Romanian countryside with its wonderful pastoral scenes of flocks of sheep tended by shepherd's, strongly enforced this feeling. I was also reminded of Grimm's fairy tales that had their origins in the myths and legends of those deep, dark and impenetrable European forests so lovingly depicted in this film. The scenes of the mist wreathed Carpathian mountains added hugely to the brooding menace of this film. You can easily see why they would have struck fear even into the hardened hearts of the veteran Roman legionnaires who once subdued this land. The use of the Romanian countryside for the location filming was a perfect move, and I hope other filmmakers follow Strickland's lead. The area is unchanged by modern farming methods and Hardy would have been familiar with many of the scenes shown in the film. I was particularly entranced by the scenes of rustic dancing, which was actually filmed in the gypsy village of Kommando. It looked and felt very authentic, which it clearly was.
The film was made using 16mm ARRI SR3 and AATON A - MINIMA. Now in all honesty I really haven't got the foggiest what that means. But I read this on the films credits, and was so impressed with the immediacy and sense of involvement this imaginative filming gave, that I felt I should make a note of it. The film also made effective use of fading in and out of focus. The story although simple enough, is made riveting by such methods. I kept expecting flashbacks to be used for past black deeds, but the director cleverly avoided this by such simple methods as a long scene simply probing the black forest depths, where you instinctively know that this is where the rape took place. Strickland shows all the hallmarks of the competent director who does not need to fall back on common plot devices and gratuitous violence to get an audiences attention. The acting is extremely natural and Helen Peter in the lead role was very impressive. She brought a haunting tragic quality to her role that would make her a natural for a Romanian "Tess of the D'Urbervilles". Perhaps most importantly, the film has a strong message at its heart. Revenge can come at a high price, and although a hard concept for many, the simple act of forgiveness can cleanse the heart, leading to a deeper fulfilment and a clear conscience. Perhaps five stars is a little generous, but I believe that Strickland deserves all the encouragement that can be lavished on him, so that he might produce more where this came from. Highly, highly recommended.