QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM TRANSYLVANIA
A woman in her 90s is semi-naked on her bed swinging her legs up in the air while singing Das Mädchen unter der Laterne (the WW2 song best known as Lili Marleen) in perfect German. This is how you meet Nora Iuga for the very first time. She is perhaps Romania’s most celebrated poet and writer at present, a woman whose “morbid eroticism” and playfulness shocked and outraged the communist regime that ruled Romania until 1989. The woman is a genuinely irresistible human being.
When you barge into the cinema without any idea of what you are about to see, your experience becomes 100% authentic. You had read no reviews, no synopsis, and you have no background knowledge of the subject whatsoever. I wouldn’t expect to be entertained by documentary about a Romanian writer (shock and outrage: I barely touch literature these days, instead devoting my time virtually in its entirety to cinema. Let alone Romanian literature). Yet this register of a fascinating artist in her twilight years is sobering and entertaining, thanks mostly to Nora’s sharp sense of humour, irony and self-deprecation. I laughed out just as loud as the Romanians that packed the movie theatre. At one point, someone comforts a crying Nora, and she hilariously retorts: “it will look good on the film”. The German ambassador calls her, and they have a lengthy conversation, only for Nora to reveal that she had no idea of who she was talking to. Laughter ensues.
Her long hair white as snow and brittle as pine needles, her skin pallid, the big bags and countless wrinkles under her eyes are some of the inevitable signs of senescence. Yet Nora exudes an unabashed joie-de-vivre. She hurls “tragedy” upon seeing the cake for 90th birthday, yet her contagious smile and witty remarks suggest that she remains as attached to life and as is love with herself as ever. This sense of resistance and liberation presumably permeates the books that upset Ceausescu’s censors. I can’t imagine the pompous and narcissistic dictator bemused at her antics.
Nora is not a traditional documentary. It is not narrated in chronological order, and it does not provide detailed insight into her extensive life and career. We learn that her lifetime partner died three decades ago aged just 58, but that’s about it. Instead, Nora focuses on off-the-cuff, spontaneous moments of the present day, with a few archive images thrown in occasionally. And that’s precisely why it works. This is a straightforward celebration of an intelligent, unrepentant, unapologetic and explosive human being, undaunted by her very advanced age. You might be compelled to explore her work at your own accord after watching this doc.
Incidentally, Nora and the filmmaker Carla Teaha popped right in front of my eyes just as I was penning this review, in the press centre of the Festival. I told her that I was in the process of writing about her, and that I want to have her energy when (and if ) I get to her age. We chatted briefly (in German, as she does not speak English). She then gave me a beautiful smile and a firm handshake. She has a certain je ne sais quoi that immediately lifts your mood. Her joy is indeed contagious. What a remarkable acquaintance!
Nora has just premiered at the 22nd Transylvania International Film Festival, as part of the Larger than Life section. DMovies is following the action at the largest film festival of Romania and one of the most influential of the Balkans live and in loco, exclusively for you.