In a Romanian cinema scenery, built mostly out of strongly socio-political subjects, Nicolae Constantin Tănase’s film marks a different stage, a kind of new New Romanian Wave, in which the accent no longer falls on how we relate to the Communist Era or how we face the avatars of the post-Decemberist system; but on aspects that don’t exactly carry a historic value – yet are just as alive, as strong, as painful. These are the fights and the dramas that arise not because of the political system (although society does have a say in the destiny of the characters involved), but because of human nature itself. This direction is welcome in Romanian cinema (a direction we’ve come across before, for example, in Paul Negoescu’s A Month in Thailand); one that no longer avoids the so-called ‘minor’ subjects – casual in appearance but that in fact contain deep meanings.
A film that could be put in the ‘young adult’ category, The World is Mine is a film that speaks of today’s adolescents’ world, that are undergoing the same battle to affirm their identity, a battle that is often more cruel and unfair than the adults’. In fact, the world of the young at the beginning of their path reflects, in a smaller version, the world of adults, reproducing, at school or in their group of friends, what they see and live at home. With a few exceptions – one of these being Larisa (played with perfectly balanced doses of innocence, daring, and frankness, by the young Ana Maria Guran), the main character in Nicolae Constantin Tănase’s film. She is the atypical teenager, capable of overcoming all the restraints, refusing to let herself defined by norms and rules that are imposed upon her abusively.
On a primary level, the story revolves around a few teenagers’ daily life (teenagers found in a low social class), at a school where all typologies can be found: Larisa is the nonconformist rebel – by her peers’ standards, Ana (Iulia Ciochină) is the spoiled daughter of a rich man, who thinks she can do anything she pleases, Florin (Florin Hrițcu) is the neighborhood scoundrel that all the girls throw themselves at etc. Plus Larisa’s two friends (played by Oana Rusu and Ana Vatamanu), constantly in her shadow, devoid of personality, needing the stronger example set by their friend, for whom they feel a mix of jealousy and admiration. In this brutal world, fragility and innocence don’t belong. The law is set by violence – physical and mental, and the adults, who should be protecting the young, are spineless, and oftentimes bullies as well. This is a very colorful world, with parties, manele, fights, hopes and disappointments, danger, but beauty as well. The teenagers of the 2000s are the same as ever, aching to start their lives quickly, living in fast forward as if life is going to end the next day.
The World is Mine can be viewed as a bildungsroman, in which the heroine goes through multiple stages of formation, at the end of which she comes out stronger than ever. Social media, the exaggerated interest for the image, the deceitful values that trick you with their shininess – money, cars, fame, all these are traps in which Larisa falls unwittingly. The rhythm in which she is living her life – inner and outer – is a few revs greater than everyone else’s. Perhaps because of the insecurity that the familial environment is transmitting, perhaps due to a soul that’s spilling over, Larisa seems to be living each day as if it were her last, with no prudence or fear. She makes mistakes, but she never goes back and she knows how to admit them. She is capable of saying what she thinks, showing her feelings, and assuming more responsibility than any of the people that surround her.
One of the great victories of Tănase’s film is the creation of a strong central female character, without making her a feminist exponent. The multitude of ingredients that form Larisa’s personality are ones that historically have always been attributed to the masculine: independence, courage exceeding prudence, ready action. A sort of young scout, Larisa doesn’t step back even when life threatens to crush her, annihilate her. You wonder where this incredible inner strength comes from, this curiosity to know the world in all its forms. Up until the age of 16, Larisa has had shocks that many people don’t have over the course of their entire lives. She has recurrent nightmares – a manifestation of her insecurities, and many times feels as if her end has come but knows that really, life will go on: ‘I know that it doesn’t matter that it hurts, it doesn’t matter that I’m drowning, I will be ok. I know I can’t choose it, but I will be ok. I will be ok whatever happens in this world’.
The delicate and difficult age of adolescence is treated without inflections by the director, and without an excessive dramatization. It would have been very easy to slip into melodrama when hoisting so much baggage onto such a young character, but Nicolae Constantin Tănase does this so discreetly that he doesn’t let you pity the character, but on the contrary leads you to admire her. A big plus is Raluca Mănescu’s script – extremely credible ‘living’ dialogues, in which nothing sounds fake or unharmonious.
Another aspect worth mentioning is that of a well dosed realism, that doesn’t fall into the miserable and doesn’t paint the world in black and white, because in this case the color isn’t given by the outer world, but by the wealth of Larisa’s inner world. Yes, this seaside neighborhood in which many teenagers are living their last moments of innocence isn’t exactly a corner of Paradise, but Larisa’s thirst for life cannot be quenched by its limitations.
The realistic level of the film is doubled by a symbolic level, which offers the audience a chance to delve deeper into the character’s soul. Water is a recurrent theme and a dual symbol, of life and death: Larisa dreams of drowning, and the scenes that contain water have a dramatic slowness to them that suggest the passing into a symbolic real (an effect that is accentuated by Vlaicu Golcea’s music). In spite of a sometimes overly overt symbolism (like the moment when Larisa stares into the fish tank, identifying herself with the trapped fish), that softens the brutality of real life, the symbolic world fits perfectly into the real world that the teenagers share – especially Larisa’s own view of the world, in which the force of imagination has not yet been crushed by the triviality of day to day life.
This film’s revelation is the actress Ana Maria Guran, who had her acting debut in this role (in fact most of the actors who were in this film had never acted before), and who won the GOPO Award for ‘young hope’. Impressively authentic, the actress turns Larisa into a memorable character – a teenager suspended between two worlds, that of nightmarish reality and that of endless possibility. Larisa is an almost donquijotesque hero, because no matter how many times she is knocked down, she continues standing back up. Her inner tumult is too great and the waves of reality carry her to unknown places, hitting her mercilessly – but nothing is irremediable because she is at that age where she truly feels that the world is hers. Nicolae Tănase has his character pass through brutally contrasting scenes: now we see Larisa change her dying grandma’s diapers, now we see her write notes in a bottle with her friends. In spite of the traumatic situations she is put through (her grandma’s death, abuse, betrayal, her first love ending – which she still idealizes, a dysfunctional family – with a weak mother and an aggressive father, a shabby educational system), she still manages to hold on to a few adorable childish traits.
More importantly than anything else, The World is Mine does not try to judge or condemn, it does not try to give verdicts, offer moralizing lessons. Nothing of the screen direction, script, or acting goes along these lines. On the contrary, it is an extremely understanding look at the problems of the younger generation, encouraging a bit more kindness, as Larisa’s drama is born from her unfulfilled need for love and acceptance. The analysis of this segment of reality, ignored until now, is a type of realism that Romanian cinema truly needs.
by Silvia Dumitrache
English translation by Maia Petrigenaru Van Kline