Sweet and sour film offers immigrant's perspective
Gone are the warm evenings for leisurely walks and cocktail-hour on the porch — it’s officially fall and winter is looming. You might find yourself wondering what to do with yourself these days because it’s dark, cold and, frankly, almost time to hibernate.
But don’t settle into your slippers just yet. The Hirschfield International Film Series in Middlebury is sure to wake you up. Every Saturday, from September to May, everyone is welcome to come see a free film shown at Middlebury College — something that’s been going on since Ted Perry (Fletcher Professor of the Arts Emeritus) helped to establish the series 30 years ago. On Saturday, Oct. 13, Ioana Uricaru’s first feature, “Lemonade,” will screen, at 3 and 8 p.m., in Dana Auditorium.
This year’s programming, however, is different than decades past. Instead of deciding all the films in advance, the Department of Film and Media Culture is scheduling films on a month-to-month basis. The hope is that the series will be more nimble — adapting when new films are distributed — and can present a community screening before the film ends up on an online movie platform. Media Production Specialist Ethan Murphy, who’s leading the new program this year, hopes this will draw more students to the series.
The next four films of the Hirschfield Series will be: “Lemonade,” “I Am Not A Witch,” “Border” and “Women at War.” These films will screen at 3 and 8 p.m. at Dana Auditorium, and are all co-sponsored by the Vermont International Film Foundation. VTIFF’s film festival runs Oct. 18-28 and will also screen these films (along with many others) at various locations throughout Burlington.
To check upcoming films in the Hirschfield Series visit middlebury.edu/academics/fmmc/hirschfield/2018-2019 (or check the Addison Independent’s calendar).
OK, so let’s talk about this Saturday’s film: “Lemonade.”
You’re in for something sweet and sour with this one. Director Ioana Uricaru (pictured) is the Jeanne Epp Barksdale Assistant Professor for Film and Media Culture at Middlebury College and also the director of Middlebury Script Lab. She is Romanian-American, and first came to the states in 2001, when she attended graduate school at USC in Los Angeles. This is her first full-length feature, and is based on her (and others’) real experiences of the immigration process. Here’s the story:
While working in the U.S. on a temporary visa as a caretaker, Mara, a 30-year-old single mother from Romania, marries Daniel, an American. After the arrival of her son Dragos, everything seems to have fallen perfectly into place. When the process of getting a green card veers unexpectedly off course, however, Mara is faced with abuses of power on every level and forced to answer a dark question about herself — how far would you go to get what you want?
“One of the themes is the conflict between the two cultures. The America portrayed in this film is not the one that immigrants dream of before leaving their native country,” said Uricaru in a statement. “It’s not a modern, technologically advanced world, full of possibilities, but rather a semi-developed, provincial one, inhabited by people who can be narrow-minded and prejudiced… This feeling of being caught between two worlds, painfully familiar to any immigrant, could be summarized by the question: Is it worth it?”
Uricaru isn’t trying to answer this question, but rather shedding light on the American myth that “you can achieve anything you want.”
The aesthetic of “Lemonade” is different from other mainstream U.S. films, too. Uricaru and her friend and producer Cristian Mungiu, focus on intense attention to detail and aim to represent Mara’s experience as realistically as possible.
“‘Lemonade’ chooses in turn to focus on everyday occurrences, complete with their natural lag times and the less dramatic moments,” said Uricaru, adding that this style is heavily influenced by Romanian filmmaking.
“Romanian cinema is focused on small moments,” she said, “raw realism, which sometimes can mean not much is happening… Popular U.S. films are often focused on practical things, like getting to the point, achieving goals, being successful — these are priorities of the culture. You can see this in the films because the characters always get what they want and everybody’s happy — that’s the American narrative. There’s always a very clear difference between good and bad, right and wrong; and the good-guy is always expected to win in the end.
“In Romania, with a complicated history and recent history, it’s more realistic to think things won’t work out,” Uricaru explained. “To think that things won’t go as planned. Life in general is more obstacle and surprises than a complete, accomplished goal. In Romanian cinema there’s more tolerance for ambiguity, uncertainty and interpreting the same thing in two different ways.”
So where does “Lemonade” fall on the U.S.-Romanian scale? Somewhere in the middle.
“I see ‘Lemonade’ as a film that is uniquely positioned as a bridge between European auteur cinema and the more daring American Independent films… a film that will belong to both the Romanian and American cinemas, just as I consider myself as belonging to both of them.”
Uricaru, doesn’t view herself as an educator with her films. “I can expose the audience to a way of thinking, or living that’s slightly different than theirs, but I don’t know if there’s room for education,” she said. “It’s up to the audience: they’ll either choose to understand or just shut it off.”
Either way, Uricaru’s film will put you in a situation of wondering, “what would I have done?” And “to genuinely wonder is an exciting place to be.”
Join Uricaru and lead actress Mãlina Manovici for a conversation after each screening on Saturday, Oct. 13, 3 and 8 p.m., in Dana Auditorium.