SFIFF: Constantin and Elena

B Constantin and Elena

This quiet documentary from Romania plants a stationary camera in front of two people very much in love. Constantin and Elena have been in love for a very long time. In fact, the filmmaker, Andrei Dascalescu, is their grandson. They were married in 1953; you can do the math.

They’re lives are simple, and seem very fulfilling. They farm, care for their animals, cook, and fix things around the house. Elena also weaves beautiful rugs. And they talk, remember the past, and joke with each other. They go to church. They’re visited by their grandchildren. (That is, grandchildren other than the one behind the camera, who they do an admirable job pretending isn’t there.)

They talk occasionally about politics (they support the Social Democrats), but aside from one reference to a famine and Constantin’s time in the army, they never bring up the recent, tumulus history of their country. Communism and fascism don’t come up.

What they know and do not know about the wider world gets confusing. There’s a scene where they’ve been given a can of Pepsi, and they apparently no neither the brand name, the concept of soft drinks, nor how to open a pull-top can. That seems odd for people who own a television and haven’t lived under Communism for 20 years.

Grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and death frequently come up in their conversations. This is a story of two lives well-lived, with the end in sight. It’s touching, poignant, and occasionally funny.

Unfortunately, it’s also too long. At 102 minutes, it simply spends too much time watching them stare into space and doing chores. If it were half an hour shorter, it would have been even better.

4/26–I’ve added the following:

Before the screening started, a festival staffer told us that filmmaker Andrei Dascalescu’s plane was scheduled to land at SFO in a few minutes, and that hopefully he’d be there by the end of the film. He wasn’t.

But he will be present for the two other screenings. These are on Tuesday, April 27, 6:45, at the Kabuki, and Saturday, May 1, 2:00, at the Pacific Film Archive.

He was also at the hospitality lounge last night, where I had a chance to ask him a couple of questions. He told me he had no trouble getting his grandparents to ignore him as he was filming them, and that he used only one camera (there were moments when I was sure he was using two).

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