“Wild Romania”. Spectacular, yet harmless

1 October, 2021

Just like Untamed Romania (2019, dir. Tom Barton-Humphreys), another documentary on the subject of our country’s wildlife, Wild Romania (2021), by Dan Dinu and Cosmin Dumitrache, also comes to appease that part of the audience which says that it would also like to see the “country’s beauties” on the big screen, under the pretext that all other Romanian films are only showing what is “ugly” about it. 

And what could be more uplifting than to admire the grandiose geographic diversity of Romania, spanning from the Danube Delta to the Carpathian Mountains, and the spectacular sights of birds and wild animals filmed within their habitats? All the more so now, when the increasing technical capabilities of film shooting equipment allows for novel perspectives which had, up until now, been virtually impossible.

In contrast to Untamed Romania, Wild Romania’s voice-over commentary (read by actor Adrian Titieni) is much cleaner in terms of self-evident truths and patriotically-tinged effusiveness. Of course, at an essential level, the discourse belongs to the same sphere of generic motivational speeches: What a wonderful country Romania is, so let us protect its nature!

The problem of such a documentary lies in what it doesn’t show. After all, what can we object to a series of images that are assembled under the shape of a two-hour-long puzzle that is made for all audiences, containing the rituals of numerous species of birds and animals, such as bears, foxes, lynxes, wolves, buffalos, wild boards, chamois, does and deers, and even the cute marmots? Or what could we complain about when it comes to stunning and dizzying images, which only the advent of drones has made possible, showing us mountaintops, valleys and caves?

On the contrary, up to a certain point, we can even let ourselves be seduced by the candor of this gaze. It’s as if the two filmmakers would reprise one of the daring gestures of the pioneers of early cinema: they use the camera in order to offer the spectator the chance to see the places where they will most likely never arrive, even if it is through a mediated form. 

The problem lies elsewhere: in how these images are used and, more importantly, what the film omits to show.

The sensation is that its cinematic potential is underexplored – “what you see is what you get”, as the saying goes. There is almost nothing beyond the micro-narrations cobbled together through editing and the voice-over text which is present in almost every sequence (the cuteness of a couple of fox cubs playing around, the eccentric nature of some birds’ mating rituals, the dramatic fights between bears and fallow deers, or the cruelty of a young bird of prey against another one of the chicks in its nest). There is a given amount of sensationalism in this entire directorial apparatus, which excludes any kind of occasion to reflect and that is not very stimulating.

And then, in the absence of even the slightest overarching narrative thread (people are completely excluded from these images), other than the traditional change in seasons, the editing’s coherence takes a hit, thus making the film lag or even be repetitive at times. Just as I thought that the chapter dedicated to the Danube Delta and its beautiful birds was over, we go back to take a look at its pelicans, after a foray into the forests and over the mountain tops. And so on, and so forth.

But the film’s biggest problem is that it completely excludes the current social, economic and political context. It’s as if these things would exist in an isolated sphere, untouched by any of humankind’s actions. There is nothing here about the logging that has felled entire forests. Nothing about the various sources of pollution. Nothing about poaching. Nothing about the hunting parties that are organized for hefty sums of money. The damaging boat tours across the Delta. Nothing about the reasons for which bears have started to invade the cities in their search for nurture.

Of course, in its defense, one could claim that Wild Romania shows what is most beautiful in our country’s nature precisely in order for us to better understand the need to protect its still-existing wonders. I am however afraid that this lack of conscience, this attitude which is solely “positive”, slightly corporate, is in fact damaging its aims. And it makes the film appear out of touch, in an era of ecological activism and gigantic threats which endanger the environment.



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Journalist and film critic. He works as artistic director for several film festivals in Romania. For Films in Frame, he is in charge of the Emerging Voices column, which is published twice a month, on Tuesday.