Loosely adapted from Max Blecher’s literary works, Radu Jude’s Scarred Hearts (or Inimi Cicatrizate in the original Romanian) compiles the romantic and emotional experiences of an intelligent young man suffering from tuberculosis at a Sanatorium in 1930’s Romania.
Unsurprisingly, this is a film that opens itself to empathy. It may be a good viewing experience for those who romanticize the past: the reality is that many people died tragically young not so long ago, and it is easy to sympathize with this under Jude’s directing. Everyone plays naturally, with Lucian Teodor Rus, as the protagonist, Emanuel, shining and displaying a youthful and cerebral verve. The touching paternal relationship with which the film begins makes it doubly easy to sympathize.
The music, though scarce, is striking when it appears, and some philosophical discussions about healing among the patients stick to the mind. Victor, played by Bogdan Cotlet, explains both originally and poignantly: ‘In one year, a sick person spends enough energy to conquer an empire. Only it’s done on the minus axis. Each of us is the guy who wasn’t Caesar, or Napoleon, or Nelson’. Serban Pavlu, as the matter-of-fact but warm doctor, is excellent and brings the audience closer to what occurs.
Jude should also be applauded for doing something veritably rare on the Romanian cinematic scene: he departs from the dominant Romanian realism, grey-toned and thematically Communist, favoring older epochs and vivid color schemes. Set in the interwar period, the film is true to the essence of the era. Although 90% of the action is set in the sanatorium, evident attention to the art deco style of the 1930’s even in a clinical environment. Limpid greenery and azure seascapes caress the eyes occasionally. Jude himself states that this film isn’t supposed to be a film depicting what is widely considered to be ‘The Golden Age’ of Romania, but I’m not convinced if this applies to the aesthetic side of things. What with the elegant and slow pace of the film, the cinematography is essential to its success: and indeed, it isn’t an easy feat to derail the focus from the fact that most characters are lying in bed.
Although it is not clear whether Emanuel is himself Max Blecher or not, it is surprising that we don’t see any literary creation from him. This may have been an energizing factor, improving upon the inevitable static nature of the film, which would have given the viewer a sense of hope that, all things considered, would not be excessively cheerful but reasonable. More engagement with creation, which fundamentally defies mortality, would have reconciled the pain that, though finely presented, becomes eventually overpowering.
I must admit that films with political intent make me uneasy. I am certain that I am not alone in preferring art for art’s sake, which seems to be increasingly undermined for one reason or another. That said, the political elements were not overstated and generally were intelligently executed, with various conflicting tropes of the era coming up through conversation.
What is most tender and impressive about the film, what it manages to convey, is the pent-up charm and vitality of youth that eventually dissipates into futility: a word that comes up again and again in Blecher’s prose. Scarred Hearts is also a film that refines in the memory after it has been watched, leaving both a particular, individualistic aroma and a paradoxical sense of hope behind. To the effort to raise cultural awareness for lesser-known writers, I say: chapeau.
Dir: Radu Jude
Scr: Max Blecher, Radu Jude
Cast: Lucian Teodor Rus, Ivana Mladenovic, Serban Pavlu, Alexandru Dabija, Marius Damian, Dana Voicu
Prd: Ada Solomon
DOP: Marius Panduru
Music: Dana Bunescu
Run time: 2h 21m
Scarred Hearts is available on MUBI now.