Review: A harsh world comes to life in tough ‘Aferim!’

Tom Long
The Detroit News

In 1835 Romania, a crusty constable and his constable-in-training son set out on horseback to find a runaway gypsy slave who may have been having an affair with a nobleman’s wife.

The constable, Constandin (Teodor Corban), has a limp and a cough; his days as a bounty hunter may be numbered but he still brims with fierce authority and physical swagger. His teen son, Ionita (Mihai Comaniou), endures his father’s taunts and endless words of wisdom but moves assuredly, long sword in hand, when things get tense.

Their relationship is at the center of “Aferim!,” a period film that’s absolutely devoted to its period. As Constandin and Ionita wander through dense forests, cross shallow swamps and craggy landscapes they’re exposed to a stew of myths, prejudices and attitudes that seem very specific to their time and place. Somehow director Radu Jude’s decision to film in black-and-white only heightens that sense of reality: It’s as if the film is some ancient newsreel.

Although their quest seems very needle-in-a-haystack, the two eventually do find the gypsy slave, Carfin Pandolean (Toma Cuzin), and after a bit of a tussle, throw him across a horse to be brought back to the nobleman like a sack of grain. Just for good measure, they also grab a small gypsy boy, but on the way home they sell off the likable kid at a carnival.

This is the harsh world of “Aferim!” (the word means “bravo,” but usually with a sarcastic spin, which is certainly appropriate here). As father and son get to know their prisoner, Ionita suggests setting him free — no good can be waiting for him at the nobleman’s estate. But his father brushes the suggestion away; he need the money and besides, it’s his job, his duty. Such are the tough, vivid realities of “Aferim!”

Tom Long is the former film critic for The Detroit News.



Not rated

Running time: 108 minutes

At the Detroit Film Theatre