“The Man and His Shadow”. The Wind of Change

15 April, 2022

How did such a charismatic man, who spent a quarter of a decade surrounded by the film students of the UNATC university, not end up being the protagonist of any film until briefly before the end of his career?

It’s something I wondered about while watching The Man and His Shadow (2021), the independent, non-fiction feature debut of young filmmaker (and photographer) Dragoş Hanciu (known especially for his excellent documentary short, Ionaş Dreams of Rain, released in 2017). 

Of course, the opportunity that the filmmaker seized upon was decisive – Gheorghe Blondă (or “Uncle Jorj”), the beloved technician of the analog photography lab of UNATC’s film department, and who has passed away in the meantime, was just about to retire, after his activity had gone on for longer than it was expected, and in the context of a change in the university’s leadership, and someone else was due to replace him.

Grasping at the importance and emotional charge of this moment, Dragoş Hanciu, took his (borrowed, like all his equipment) camera in hand and went to spend as much tie as he could together with “Uncle Jorj” over his last months in office (which, as we are set to find out from the film, were to be briefly extended after the students requested it, up until the summer of 2017, at the end of the university year).

The urgency behind this instinctual gesture, which is both cinematic and affective (the filmmaker already had a close relationship with his character, harking back to the not-so-faraway time in which he was studying Film Direction at UNATC) has something noble in it. 

And because the film couldn’t have been a cold and detached portrait of a man that is just about to leave the job which he has had for the past 25 years, and which is the main purpose of his life, Dragoş Hanciu, when he’s not in the role of a shadow that is following “Uncle Jorj” with his camera across the hallways of the school, also takes his place in front of the camera at times, placing it on a tripod and turning their relationship (akin to one between a grandson and his nephew) one of the film’s main aims. 

Their closeness is portrayed in a few simple, yet extremely touching moments – to the greatest effect in the scene in which the two cut each other’s hair and the camera stops for a few moments on their fallen tresses, mixed on the floor: the young man’s black hair together with the old man’s white one. Never has a cliché, evidently symbolic image seemed more natural, more suited to its place. 

Besides, the concept of materiality is a constant presence throughout the film – after all, “Uncle Jorj” is there to teach his students how to develop film reels, and the last thing that he does before leaving is to gather the objects in his “office” and to place them in a red trolley bag, that he pulls after himself in the half-light of a hallway that he will never set foot into again. 

The Man and His Shadow” is the story of a lonesome man, shot exclusively in the place where he feels best and to which he says goodbye with a heavy, yet dignified heart – the small rooms of his laboratory, where students come to learn their trade, to help him by signing petitions to support him or to celebrate his birthday.

A closed, protective space with the vintage atmosphere of a time capsule, where news about what is happening on the outside – for example, the mass anti-government protests in the street – arrive by the radiowaves. 

But the film is not merely about “Uncle Jorj”. Dragoş Hanciu has an intuition of the fact that, once the old man is retired, what changes is, in fact, an entire era – Gheorghe Blondă’s craft faces extinction, and the inevitable pass from analog to digital will be an irreversible one.

Almost imperceptibly, the film gives one a soft and pleasant sense of melancholy, which is stopped from turning into a grave one solely by the exuberance of “Uncle Jorj”. 


Journalist and film critic. Curator for some film festivals in Romania. At "Films in Frame" publishes interviews with both young and established filmmakers.


Director/ Screenwriter