And They May Still Be Alive Today – Love Birds
Tudor Jurgiu’s newest feature, And They May Still Be Alive Today, subscribes to the slippery tradition of contemporary films that insert a sliver of magic realism (and if it’s not consistent as is in the case of Guillermo del Toro, that might come across as lax or gratuitous). In Jurgiu’s case, it’s a love story between two protagonists that are bored to death, who are not necessarily head over heels in love but wouldn’t go to the trouble of breaking up either: it’s an intermittent, brittle relationship, the kind that breaks into pieces at the first gust of wind.
Vlad (Bogdan Nechifor) and Clara (Nicoleta Hâncu) are living a contemporary folk tale at the margins of Bucharest, where their realm is not in the least some flamboyant castle, but a simple flat in a high-rise. The suitor, none other than Clara, chooses Vlad after a long, tiring, and mythical trip through the favelas of Bucharest, where he lives in a barrelhouse, surrounded by cats and clad in torn-up garments. When she arrives, Jurgiu introduces a small instance of situational comedy, as she asks him “where is your master?”, thus showing that he is not the stately prince that she was expecting. The princess keeps on insisting on the connection between them (that they had spent their childhood together, running through the woods, having been promised to one another), but he doesn’t seem to remember anything. “It’s a curse”, the princess exclaims! “Bend over backward three times”, she urges him. The emperor’s son, flabbergasted, acquiesces to her request, and then follows other attempts at restoring his memory (she kisses him, he says that he seems to remember something, but she insists on knowing that everything should come back all at once); yet nothing rehabilitates his memories. Finally, even if she is disappointed at the fact that their meeting hasn’t gone according to her expectations, Clara implores him to trust in the fact that they are meant for each other, and that everything will return in due time to the normal course of a fairy tale. This bet has no chance of coming out well since fairy tales indicate that the prince (not the princess) is the one who must pass through all of the mythical challenges (to slay dragons, to chip off their scales and feathers, to cross over seven kingdoms and bridges, and so on). Vlad and Clara have started it all off on the wrong foot.
From this point onwards, And They May Still Be Alive Today starts to resemble the game of back-and-forth that Jurgiu displayed in his student short film, In The Fishbowl. Vlad and Clara fight and then make up out of nothing and are trapped in each other’s webs. Their entire world is an innocent fabrication, a child’s play (they chase each other through the house, they pretend to be ogres, they engage in sweet talk), which is all precisely to confirm that they’re made for one another. Their relationship outside of this game is however problematic, it shakes at every juncture. They are unbalanced and uncalibrated (when one is sleepy, the other is talkative, when he’s playful, she is acting cerebral, and so on). Everything seems to stem from Clara’s desire to idealize everything – and it’s clear that this comes on the basis of the stories which have fed our childhoods, when fairy tales would guarantee the fact that at the end of the road we would find the flowers of joy and hear the ringing of love bells. Vlad plays into her game, but it’s a role-play which he cannot sustain forever, the play is not inexhaustible. Their project is to literally transform their relationship into a linear narrative, in the vein of Amelie Poulain – a trajectory that starts out with courtship and ends with eternal euphoria, with no place for mundanities, fights, inconsistencies. In a comically unrealistic scene, the two are walking through the courtyard of a church, its bells ringing in the background; one by one, each of them explains their arguments regarding their happiness (they like the same font, the same Instagram filter, the same color, the same time of day, the same way of drawing a certain object – there couldn’t be any greater match between two people in this entire world).
The film is quite clearly a comedic pastiche of all sorts of stories like this, but it’s a slippery pastiche: Clara comes out quite ruffled out of this story, she is capricious and dramatic, stomping her feet when she isn’t loved in a proper way; Vlad is cornered, a poor boy who doesn’t know how to show his love. For a contemporary folk tale, the paths taken are on the beaten track, but Jurgiu doesn’t set about reinventing the wheel, and it’s just the same old “she puts more love into the relationship than he does, and he cannot keep up with it”. And then there’s the question of the dosages of realism and fantasy – Jurgiu checks off a slim list of surrealist motifs (a bumble bee that keeps on circling the prince, magical only because the sound of his flight is unnatural, a raven that miraculously perches itself upon his arm; the director doesn’t go for a cinema in the vein of Secret Weapon, it’s doubtlessly a more grounded plan). The mostly statical shots don’t really get along well with the vibration of the characters (the camera guesses their movements, it knows their reactions all too well, leaving no space for improvisation, thus the freshness of the actors’ performances seems to be eclipsed by too much prep work). And They May Still Be Alive Today thus gives off the impression of an unfinished project, or one that has been halted due to various reasons – for a film that sets about subverting the standardized format of romantic comedies, it’s quite shy, and falls into the same trap of just endlessly repeating the same single idea from beginning to end: the two might not be soulmates, but they will search for each other their entire lives as if they had been.
(Română) Și poate mai trăiesc și azi
(Română) Tudor Cristian Jurgiu / Tudor Cristian Jurgiu, Anca Tăbleț
(Română) Nicoleta Hâncu, Bogdan Nechifor
(Română) Transilvania Film