Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Capturing Romanian family life, minus mom: Teodora Ana Mihai's WAITING FOR AUGUST

Watching WAITING FOR AUGUST, the fine new documentary from Romanian filmmaker Teodora Ana Mihai, is a bit like going back in time to the days of those old-fashioned documentaries that simply watched their subjects carefully, without comment, with a camera that finally appears all but invisi-ble to the participants. Of coure, that camera never really is invisi-ble, but making it seem so -- via the direc-tor's being remarkably unobtrusive and/or becoming almost a part of what s/he is observing -- goes a long way toward that invisibility.

It is via this fly-on-the-wall manner that Mihai (shown at left) brings us into the life of a Romanian family of seven children, the mother of whom (there is no father present) has taken a job in Italy in order to make enough money to take care of her children. It has fallen upon the eldest daugh-ter, Georgiana (below), just turning 15, to act as "parent" to her siblings. A question never raised directly, but one that hangs over the film, is: Why is not more of this chore relegated to the family's eldest son (who looks older than Georgi-ana and seems capable of doing a hell of lot more than he clearly is)?

TrustMovies is just going by what he's seen in the many Romanian movies he's watched over the past decade since the Romanian new wave hit us -- from The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Police, Adjective to Tuesday, After Christmas and If IWant to Whistle, I'll Whistle -- movies that, time after time, offer up men who've never grown into their own autonomy, often under the tutelage of women enablers (see Child Pose for the very best/worst example of this enabling).

Now, we can't just blame the gals for this (though, in Waiting for August, one wonders why the missing mom did not insist that her eldest son get off his ass and help). After all, living under the dictatorship of the Ceaușescus and Mother Russia certainly did not do Romanian autonomy any favors. So young Georgiana, who should be living out her adolescence and first love and all the rest, is instead overseeing the shopping and cooking and cleaning (below) and ironing (what is being used as an ironing board offers a quite telling detail).

Ms Mihai and her cinematographer are given to using a widescreen image full of lovely design and composition -- watch for the scene of the storm -- despite the subject being full of poverty and blight. This is an easy movie to view, even if its situation is somewhat dire. Though Georgiana appears to be doing as good a job as possible, there is still a threat from a local nun to sic authorities on the family because of mom's absence, not to mention the angry father of one of her schoolmates who has threatened to attack Georgiana on her way home from school.

The filmmaker's preferred style seems to be extended scenes involving the family, especially featuring Georgiana, that keep us thoroughly in the moment with these kids. We see mom via Skype (below) and overhear her conversations on the telephone, even as everything from the TV to the computer seems to be going on the fritz. No wonder mom needs to work in a country where a better salary is paid.

Over the years, we've not seen many documentaries from Romania. Perhaps we haven't needed them, given the highly documentary style of so many of the narrative films that make this little country seem all too real/depressing.

We spend about one year with this family, and because of the many strong details Mihai provides, we get a picture of the kind of close-knit family life that perseveres: the young boy Stelian's "wish" for the tooth he loses, Georgiana's date at the local fair,  the popularity of Spanish (or Latin American) telenovelas on Romanian TV, the old woman downstairs who is supposed to be looking in on the kids, Georgiana studying (with constant interruptions from the younger kids) then relaxing at the local pool (below, right) with her girlfriends.

Finally it's August, and the family treks to the airport to wait and maybe greet their mother. But will Mom actually return? The kids -- and we -- wait on tenterhooks. This unusual documentary -- running 89 minutes -- opens theatrically in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal this Friday, October 3, and in New York City at the Quad Cinema on Friday, October 10. To check for any further scheduled screenings, in the U.S. or abroad, click here.

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