Unorthodox uniforms | Heidi

11 September, 2019

The 25th edition of Sarajevo Film Festival hosted the world premieres of three Romanian feature films, including a Moldova-Romania co-production. Few conclusions can be drawn from this set which includes documentaries The Golden Girl (dir. Denisa Morariu Tamaş and Adrian Robe) and The Soviet Garden (dir. Dragoș Turea), and the fiction film Heidi (dir. Cătălin Mitulescu). At a time when every A and B-level festival seeks annually a messianic filmmaker to announce the new trends of Romanian cinema, Sarajevo did not seem interested in this game. Or the game in Sarajevo.

And so it came to Heidi, a prudent curatorial decision, so at least to say, but much more worthy than when it comes to the two documentaries. Cătălin Mitulescu’s performances have decreased since his accomplishment with his debut feature film, The Way I Spent the End of the World (2006), and his new film reconfirms staying at the same level for more than a decade with films like Loverboy (2011), and By the Rails (2016). “This film shows you the institutionalized behavior that led to the crimes in Caracal” is a speculative title, in the clickbait press style, which I foresee for the critical reception of Mitulescu’s feature film. The context will be favorable to raising a high interest among the audience, and the situation cannot be credited to anyone. But here’s a chance to follow, in retrospect, the way we discuss the cinematic representations of local institutions in the post-Caracal context.

And the soil is fertile. Heidi follows one of the last cases of policeman Visoiu (Gheorghe Visu) he should deal with before retirement. He works in Bucharest, knows the outskirts but, more than anything else, he seems to know the deal. And the community where he has solved cases for so many years seems to have learned how it works, as well. But it goes like this: Visoiu is not a beacon of police ethics, but rather a man of the law who works out little deals, and the community consents to it. Perhaps this availability to shortcuts defines his likable nature – there is no use of demeaning remarks, xenophobia or misogyny in his interactions with the marginal communities. Going from favor to favor, from blackmail to blackmail, the cop gets to Heidi, one of the two prostitutes who should have information about the case. But, far from a glorious way to end his career, Visoiu turns to a relationship with Heidi, which seems to be the height of his unorthodox practices in his line of work. There is a lot of inconsistency in Visoiu’s actions, even though time has been dedicated to creating his profile of a policeman who has been through a lot. Basically, the first part of the film focuses only on this profile – a near-retiree for whom the resolution of another case is just another trifle, a senior who teaches the newcomers in the department how to do their job, the routine investigation etc. The course of things is then broken by this impulsive decision, coming from nowhere, with the two of them giving in to a sexual tension that has sprung up in the policeman’s apartment.

The first part of the premise is something to be welcomed. A policeman who appears to be flexible and doesn’t act blindly in the name of the law is just the shade of gray needed in a discussion often worn in black and white. Because who else is willing to listen to monologues about safety and trust at the expense of an All Cops Are Bastards slogan? Of course, it can be argued that allowing ease in police work would only leave more room for abuse. And this seems to be exactly the speech Mitulescu wants to hold, because the second part of the film turns out to be a blow to the first one. Slightly pedantic, we are shown that a policeman who veers off course will soon choose a completely different road than the one implied by the law. And, of course, the repercussions are to be expected. From this point of view, Mitulescu is much more commendatory of the institutions than his other colleagues from the New Romanian Cinema.

Representation of institutionalized ill-time links has made a career in the NRC. Among the institutions concerned were the Romanian Police, best portrayed in Police, Adjective (dir. Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009). But the character played by Visu is completely different from Cristi (Dragoș Bucur), the protagonist of Porumboiu’s film. If the young policeman constantly questions his job and his moral position in relation to it, Visoiu remains opaque throughout the film, he doesn’t necessarily question his actions, whether they are compliant or contrary to the profession. Another portrait, this time a collective one, is offered by Cristi Puiu in Aurora, when the main character gives himself up to the authorities and surrenders to some police officers in a Bucharest section who don’t seem to know what to do about him. Of course, this is also due to the speech behind Puiu’s character, a Jesus on the streets of Bucharest who has higher ideals than anyone who appears in his path. But again, Visoiu’s character is completely different, never showing doubts about his actions and methods.

And this is exactly the fault in Mitulescu’s script, written in collaboration with writer Radu Albulescu. Despite coherent situations that honorably deliver thriller elements, the robotic way Visoiu passes through them does nothing but sabotage much of the constructed suspense, just as the clumsy script sabotaged what could have been a middle ground between genre cinema and the reminiscences of NRC.

Avatar Călin Boto
Editor-in-chief of the cinema magazine Film Menu and the coordinator of its weekly film club. As a freelancer, he collaborates with several publications and film festivals. His articles have been published by magazines such as Geomovies, IONCINEMA, Film Menu, Films in Frame, Desistfilm, Dilema veche and Film. He’s strangely fond of John Ford’s films.