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Self-Portrait of a Dutiful Daughter

[…] Between self-questioning and self-adoration, this “self-portrait” outlines the territory of uncertainty and inactivity of a social milieu that is materially comfortable but existentially rigid.

[…] The closed nature of this shaping of the space and the function of doors and windows reveal not only the influence of Cristi Puiu’s filming style, but also Lungu’s obsession with the private space.

In recent Romanian filmmaking, the social reality often remains in the background and indirectly emerges through a dramatic plot concerning individuals – with special attention paid to familial relationships. In Ana Lungu’s Self-Portrait of a Dutiful Daughter the roles seem to be reversed, as we are given the impression that the drama between the main character, Cristiana, her family and friends, constitutes a sort of background or context that allows us to focus on the social reality of urban Romania.

Actually, Ana Lungu’s focus is restricted to the Romanian bourgeoisie, whose filmic portrait expresses the typical self-referential tendencies of Romanian bourgeoisie itself. Between self-questioning and self-adoration, this “self-portrait” outlines the territory of uncertainty and inactivity of a social milieu that is materially comfortable but existentially rigid. Cristiana seems to be lost, hesitating between the sense of duty instilled in her from her family’s education and the need for individual freedom that cannot find a concrete form. It is clearly a question of coming of age too, which brings to mind recollections on the main character in Rachel Lang’s praised film, Baden Baden.

As is often the case in recent Romanian movies, Self-Portrait of a Dutiful Daughter is a film of words, to which significant silent pauses characterize Ana Lungu’s narration. The strongest formal feature of this movie, however, is the rigorous choice of a specific camera frame that always defines a room or a box, even in the rare outdoor locations. The closed nature of this shaping of the space and the function of doors and windows reveal not only the influence of Cristi Puiu’s filming style, but also Lungu’s obsession with the private space. After the official annihilation of private spaces in the Soviet era, the need for a private space still generates a struggle with the oldest and strongest Romanian institution: the family. Even if Cristiana’s story has few eventful occasions to relay, in her almost ghostly daily life we cannot help but recognize the internal drama of an individual trying to find an acceptable compromise between being an individual and building relationships.

One could criticize the political agnosticism that is expressed here – certainly a typical mark of the bourgeois milieu –, but in Cristiana’s internal drama one should also recognize Romania’s deeply political and mostly unexpressed struggle to find a way out of the post-Soviet individualism and to cope with the collective dimension of society. If Lungu’s world of culture and words still functions as a balm to cure the ancient wounds of Ceaucescu’s tyranny, the movie provides a final turning point: in a sort of coda, we see Cristiana making strong decisions, becoming adult, and – with an enjoyable reference to the end of Stanley Kubrik’s Eyes Wide Shut – calling for action; literally breaking the circle of words.

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: March 07, 2017

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