Friday, January 28, 2011

Strigoi – review

Director: Faye Jackson

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

When I have written about the story Viy and, more so, the films thereof, I often mention the strigoï vii and strigoï mort. Though these two types of vampire are not mentioned in story and, indeed, hail from Romania rather than the Ukraine (the source of Viy), it was the easiest way to describe the vampiric principle.

The strigoï vii is a living vampire or vampiric witch, the strigoï mort is the undead (or, more properly, dead) variant. There are blessed few books and fewer films that actually feature traditional strigoï (and in those I’m classing the Viy variants). So this British funded, Romanian shot film with Romanian actors performing in English was already intriguing – it uses the strigoï mythology.

a kangaroo court
Its start is dark. The body of an old man, Florin, lies in a field. A couple – Constantin (Constantin Barbulescu) and Ileana (Roxana Guttmann) – are dragged from their beds and taken to a kangaroo court where the other villagers find them guilty of murdering Florin. They are taken out to the level crossing and forced to kneel. The mayor, Stefan (Zane Jarcu), and priest, Tudor (Dan Popa), are there supporting, encouraging even, the mob justice. A shotgun is raised and – fails to fire. The accused are brained with a shovel and, without ceremony, buried.

post execution party
Following this the locals ransack their mansion, stealing their items and doing a conga to Spirit in the Sky. Local woman Mara (Camelia Maxim) takes a blouse as well as lots of kitchen electrical goods. People dance, carpets are taken and drinks are consumed en masse. The mayor looks through papers. It is clear that Constantin was the rich man of the village; before he died he accused people of being willing to take his money (in bribes).

Rudi Rosenfeld as Nicolae
Vlad (Catalin Paraschiv) wakes and reaches for a cigarette – but the packet is empty. He stumbles into the living room and asks his grandfather, Nicolae (Rudi Rosenfeld), if he has any cigarettes. He has one, he says, but he is saving it. When Vlad looks in the tin jar it is empty. The gypsies stole it – his grandfather claims. He also claims that the communists stole his dog so that he it wouldn’t warn him when the gypsies came. Vlad goes outside, the dog has run away it seems, and sees Mara, who is his grandfather’s neighbour, laid upon her porch.

Catalin Paraschiv as Vlad
Concerned for her, he wakes her and her reaction shows us that he has just returned home. He was in Italy – where he ended up working in a chicken fast food outlet. As the film progresses we discover that his father, mother, brother and sister are all doctors. He graduated but is rather squeamish (we see why later, in flashbacks) and never interned or practised. Rather than see his immediate family he decided to stay with his grandfather.

the death-watch
He goes to the store but it is deserted. In the backroom he sees the men of the village sitting death-watch for Florin. They say he died in an accident but Vlad sees the bruising around his neck that indicates strangulation. Not able to get a straight answer from them he leaves and his friend Octav (Vlad Jipa), a policeman, shows up to ask some routine questions about Florin. Vlad discovers that his signature has been forged on the death certificate. He suggests to Octav that he speak to Constantin – not knowing that Constantin is dead. Meanwhile Mara’s food, prepared in the stolen electrical goods for the funeral, tastes off to her and her husband (Adrian Donea). She thinks it’s down to the stolen equipment and takes it all the stolen property back to the mansion (bar the blouse, which she can’t part with). She is leaving as Octav arrives and tells him she was returning borrowed things and no one is home.

Constantin Barbulescu as Constantin
Vlad can’t sleep and wanders to the mansion. He knocks and Ileana, eating a chicken leg and looking rather worse for wear, opens the door. He speaks to an equally ill looking Constantin who tells him that he is hungry and sets him on a path to uncover some shady land registry “errors” committed by the village elders. Meanwhile Ileana goes to Mara’s home and starts eating all the food.

Ileana hungers for food
Later that evening the mayor tries to steal Constantin’s car and finds Octav, dead. They bury him. Octav then wakes Vlad, the policeman is back from the dead and, essentially, you have three strigoï mort wandering around. They all hunger for different things. Constantin wants the world to know of the village leaders’ corruption, Octav hungers for cigarettes (he had quit when alive) – which he steals from Vlad – and Ileana hungers for food. When the food runs out, so she cannot get any more, she attacks Mara for her blood but the woman is saved as the cock crows and Ileana leaves to go back to her grave.

strangling Constantin
We also have a strigoï vii (I won’t spoil who that is), who drinks blood when people are sleeping. Some of the lore is turned upside down. Ileana will eat food with garlic seasoning – something a strigoï should not be able to do. Constantin can enter the church (and is strangled by the priest but, of course, fails to die) and again strigoï should not be able to enter churches.

sat in his grave
Octav tells Vlad that strigoï can be identified as they sit in their graves, like Turks. In his case that is certainly true. There is also an indication that they are plague spreaders. Those in too much contact with the strigoï develop pustules or boils on their bodies. Vlad certainly does and does not seem to notice their presence, despite being covered eventually. Bite marks seem to change into boils also.

removing the heart
The way to destroy a strigoï is to cut out its heart and burn it. In a fantastic scene it becomes clear that removing a heart with a bread knife is not the easiest job in the world!

Octav and Vlad
I adored this film. It is a comedy, and the comedy is dark but at its heart it is driven by quirkiness and character. If I had to liken the tone of the comedy it would be to the film Local Hero (1983). The pace is uniquely quirky also, it has a rhythm that feels right, and feels rural. You become caught in some of the underlying stories and not everything is resolved, and yet an answer is, strangely, forthcoming in the last scene featuring the main villagers. Ultimately the film's ending offers a conclusion regarding Vlad and his underlying issues and not about the foibles (albeit criminal foibles) of village life.

The acting is superb throughout. Special mention to Catalin Paraschiv, Rudi Rosenfeld and Camelia Maxim – who all bring their characters to glorious, eccentric life. 8.5 out of 10.

At the time of review the film is only available on Swedish DVD but the imdb page is here.


Zahir Blue said...

I agree. Wonderful little film. Reviewed it myself at and my views dovetail with yours.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I missed that, just nipped over to have a look-see... It is a marvelous quirky film and your points about the mundane stupidity on display are well made.

redy said...

great have to watch it..

Vladkergan said...

One of the most interesting take on the theme from years. Alas, a movie focued on some root aspects of the vampire mythology (living vampire and dead vampire, strigoï vii / strigoïi mortii).

Taliesin_ttlg said...

most definitely an interesting take Vladkergan