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Film review: Bitter-Sweet: Forest Fruit, by Anca Grădinariu

Sometimes, the films that remain etched in one’s memory are not necessarily masterpieces. Especially if you come across them before you’ve learned what a masterpiece is. For me, many of the „minor” motion pictures seen in that pre-adolescent twilight zone, filled with insecurities and hormonal searchings, where like anchors in the whirlwind road to maturity.

Among them were a few American teen flicks, but also a Romanian production – „Forest Fruit” by Alexandru Tatos. Of course, it isn’t one of his „classics”, but it continues to haunt me, to this day. I was reminded of it recently, watching Ionuț Teianu’s lyrical documentary, based on what is mandatory reading for any cinephile – the director’s diary. Victor Rebengiuc’s voice lends itself to the most intimate thoughts, the doubts and the worries of a filmmaker who proves to be a great writer as well, and Teianu finds melancholy and inventive visual solutions to double the touching confessions.

For Tatos, cinema is a „wonderful narcotic”, and every spectator that leaves the room whilst one of his films is running, treads on his soul. The documentary evokes that humanist sadness, that need for truth that soaks his work and can be found in „Forest Fruit”, a film I saw on a black and white polish TV when I was missing my home country, heavily (the event of seeing a Romanian film abroad was to repeat itself some twenty years later, at Cannes). For the „soul film”, context is important: I was 12 years old and I was visiting eastern countries with my family. In Poland, we were visiting Adam, a smuggler from around Warsaw who, my father stated, could sell us some only slightly overpriced Pioneer Adidas. However, the man was not at home, so, waiting for him, tired and hungry, we lied down on the lawn in front of the block of flats. A couple took us in, fed us, and offered us their guest room. In the morning, the Polish television was broadcasting a Romanian film. I couldn’t hear much (as in Russia, the dubbing was done by a single voice and the original dialogues were hardly distinguishable), but somehow I could understand. I was captivated and intrigued. I knew Nicolaescu and Bachus and I had liked „Declaration of Love” only because it was fashionable, not because it had really touched me. But this… this was something completely different, and yet, so natural: a slice of life; a combination of suavity and desolation; a young, raw love story, surrounded and then suffocated by the mist (that „country from beyond the blackness” was beautifully illuminated by Florin Mihailescu, the DP). Back then I had no idea that beyond the wall of propaganda and communism, strong auteur films were trying to break down the lies and falsehood.

In „Forest Fruit”, an innocent country girl is seduced by an army man. She gets pregnant and is forced to find a way to survive. Based on a  „story that is tender, warm human, fresh, and bitter-sweet like forest fruits”, it is a „film of broken dreams, of the compromises we make in life, of the moral strength and beauty, that allow to rise up once more, even when you seem to have hit rock bottom; but also of the evil we can do so easily and so unconsciously, changing the course of one’s destiny.” – Alexandru Tatos wrote so expressively in the 1983 Cinema Almanac.

In the end, it’s really a coming of age story, except in the unforgiving style of cinema vérité (Tatos even used non-professional actors), about crushed idealism, failed erotic initiations, the loss of innocence, prejudice and the smallness of the adult world. The depressing sex scene and the naturalist birth scene were quite shocking to me, and made me fear what was awaiting ahead. The ending broke my heart. Tatos was confirming my fears about maturity, but he was also giving me the hope that I was not the only one refusing its ugliest parts.

I saw the film again a few years ago, just as fearfully. This time I was afraid I would have the same feeling I had when, as an adult, I visited my grandparents’ house and found that the rooms were much smaller. But apart from some left-handed acting, the film remains a touching story about how to be a a young woman with a big soul in a small provincial town. Perhaps no other film has ever been able to show so truthfully that age when one’s emotions are so mixed up, that one confuses lust for love. When during the Film School exam I was asked about my cinematic passions by a board of „heavyweights”: Manuela Cernat, George Littera, Florian Potra and Ileana Berlogea, my plead for this film certainly counted towards my admission to the school, which added another layer of sentimental value to it.

by Anca Grădinariu
English translation by Maia Petrigenaru Van Kline

 

Photo credits: mubi.com, CinemaRx

 

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