(review published in KinoKultura‘s Special Issue 6: Romanian Cinema [May 2007])
Tudor Giurgiu’s debut feature opens with the joined naked bodies of a handsome young man, Sandu, and an attractive young woman, Kiki, caught in a moment of tenderness. Then comes the “after sex cigarette” on a high balcony and, as our eyes sink into the darkness over the sleeping city of Bucharest and the credits start rolling, we see Kiki running in the rain beside another charming young woman, Alex. But this beautifully-shot opening is brutally succeeded by a very wide shot of Alex sitting on a toilet seat, accompanied by confessional voice-over soundtrack.
This sequence establishes the relations among the three main characters, obviously caught up in a triangle, where Alex and Sandu share a passion for Kiki (who actually happens to be Sandu’s sister) – and, unfortunately, it is also symptomatic of the main problem of the film. Although the director is very fond of a certain Truffaut-esque sensibility (he even quotes the bridge scene from Jules and Jim [Jules et Jim, 1962]) and the film has its few emotional moments, there are also a number of flaws and discrepancies in the fluidity of the images.
Love Sick loosely follows the eponymous novel penned by the young Romanian writer Cecilia Ştefănescu, who is also one of the scriptwriters (the other is the director, with some help from Răzvan Rădulescu, one of the very few professional screenwriters in Romania). The names of the three characters in the novel are the same: Cristina (Kiki), Alex(andra), and Sandu (Kiki’s brother), but their love affair, treated in an evasive and somewhat sketchy manner, is exploited to the utmost in the film. Sandu, for example, a secondary personage in the book, has become one of the main characters in Love Sick. The motivation for all these changes is quite obvious: by focusing viewers’ attention on the incestuous relationship, Tudor Giurgiu wants to counterbalance the lesbian love story, believing that two shocking affairs would somehow weaken each other’s effect. However, he is also determined to remind us that his film is based on a book, hence the voice-over narration, superfluous from a cinematic point of view, but intended as an equivalent of the first person narrative of the novel.
Love Sick has the great merit of approaching taboo issues (at least for the Romanian cinema), such as homosexuality and incest, without any prejudice. It is not a “gay film” but a film that presents two love stories, where gender – and, in one of the cases, the blood relations between partners – are subsidiary elements. “Such a love story doesn’t stand a chance if the author doesn’t believe in it,” says one of the female lovers, referring to the French Romantic novel René by Chateaubriand. Fortunately, Tudor Giurgiu believes in his love stories and thus helps us believe in them, too. Combined with the talent and popularity of the three main actors – Maria Popistaşu (Kiki), Ioana Barbu (Alex), and Tudor Chirilă (Sandu) – and the soundtrack introducing some Romanian and international hits, the filmmaker’s praiseworthy conviction has turned Love Sick into the most successful Romanian film of 2006.
Along with the poetry of the erotic scenes (very difficult to find in Romanian films), Love Sick features some very intense dramatic moments, such as the lunch scene at Kiki and Sandu’s parents’ place with Alex in attendance, when every gesture and every exchange between the siblings acquires a hidden meaning. Another powerful moment is the open confrontation between Kiki and Sandu at the country house of Alex’s parents (the generation gap proves to be a genuine abyss in this film). The filmmaker lovingly explores metropolitan Bucharest, as well as rural spaces, through a very accurate eye and a keen sense for the significant detail. Love Sick speaks about contemporary Romania and its young – and confused – generation.
Despite its weak points (which, after all, are normal for a debut feature film), Love Sick establishes Tudor Giurgiu as one of the most gifted young filmmakers in Romania, a director with great potential and a name to be remembered.