Illegitimate (2016)

  • Year: 2016
  • Released: 18 Mar 2016
  • Country: Romania, Poland, France
  • Adwords: 7 wins & 9 nominations
  • IMDb:
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  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: Romanian
  • MPA Rating: N/A
  • Genre: Drama
  • Runtime: 89 min
  • Writer: Alina Grigore, Adrian Sitaru
  • Director: Adrian Sitaru
  • Cast: Adrian Titieni, Alina Grigore, Robi Urs
  • Keywords: pregnancy, twins, incest, abortion, siblings,

Illegitimate Storyline

Sitting at the dinner table with his four grown-up children and their partners, widower Victor relishes his role as family patriarch. He holds forth on physics and wine until his son Cosma confronts him with the fact that his name has shown up in historical documents which indicate he denounced women wanting to flaunt the abortion ban in place until 1989. The mood abruptly shifts. Victor defends himself by pointing out that he is, after all, against abortion and that twins Sasha and Romi owe their very lives to this fact – their mother wanted to abort them. Yet when Sasha announces she is pregnant soon afterwards, Victor’s convictions are put to a true test.—Cineuropa

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Illegitimate Movie Reviews

‘drole de famille’

‘Ilegitim’ (or ‘Ilegitimate’ in English) starts with a very normal family scene. Around the family table we see the father (Adrian Titieni), a man in his late 50s (we’ll soon learn that he lost his wife one year and a half ago), and his four children, the elder in the 30s, the younger (brother and sister twins) just out of their tween-age. Father gives a small conference filled with platitudes about time, which the kids seem to follow jokingly, less than half interested. They speak quite vulgarly for a family of intellectuals (father is a surgeon, the elder brothers follows the same professional path) but this is normal in today’s Romania as I hear (I do not live there for more than 32 years). The end of the movie is again very normal, a still family photo where everybody is smiling happily to the camera. However, nothing is normal with this family between the opening and the closing scenes of Adrian Sitaru’s film.

There are several reasons not to like this film, which does not avoid shocking its viewers, although I would say it’s doing it not in an ostentatious manner. I have already mentioned one – the high amount of profanities. The other one is certainly approaching one of the last taboos not yet completely explored by cinema – incest – although there are precedents (for example in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers). But then, the Italian maestro was not afraid to take risks and to shock in several key (and top) points of his career. I can understand people who are inhibited by these reasons when watching ‘Ilegitim’ but I believe that they are losing quite a lot. The film is very well conceived, interestingly made, and continues some of the themes already taken upon by the Romanian cinema (forced aborting during the communist rule and the dilemma pro life – pro choice after the change of the regime, responsibility for the attitude or lack of attitude during the previous regime, the children’s right to question the behavior of their parents). There also is here a beautiful although twisted love story, which is again to understand and maybe sympathize, or to hate.

The script is co-written by lead actress Alina Grigore and by director Adrian Sitaru who created the background and the situations, while letting the actors decide on the exact words and gesture that translate those into life. The result of this script writing and directing style is a spontaneous, natural, and sometimes naturalistic screen rendition, which looks fresh and authentic. Actors enter well the game, and the mix of professional actors mixed with non-professional works well. Best are Alina Grigore again who creates the portrait of the young woman whose feelings and way of life are put to a hard test and succeeds to enter the role with a winning combination of fragility and determination, and Adrian Titieni who plays a role quite similar in the general lines to the one in Cristian Mungiu’s ‘Bacalaureat’ (Graduation), and a similar terrible choice to make between his moral convictions and the perceived ‘good’ for his child.

There is a breaking point in the story telling, just at the place where in more ‘traditional’ scripts the climax of the action slides into the solution (which can be a car chase, or gun shooting, or the heroes living happily together. You need to see the film (which I highly recommend) in order to learn what the writer and director decided to pick, I will just say that this is one of the possible solutions, and not necessarily the most obvious. The film could have ended in tragedy, in happy end, or something in-between which is called life.

A Difficult Tread

It feels like skewering Illegitimate would be too easy at times. The gist of the movie, which is pretty clear if you’ve either read a synopsis or seen the poster, is that two siblings (twins) indulge in an intimate relationship with one another, which leads to a not quite desired pregnancy. However, this only truly unfolds in the second half of Illegitimate, as the first builds this dysfunctional family and conjures up some context for the less than traditional romantic alignment.

The ample first scene, setting the stage, is a celebratory dinner. Romeo (Romi) has just finished his studies and the whole family is gathered: father Victor, twin sister Sasha, older siblings Gilda and Cosma, as well as the partners of the latter two, Bogdan and Julie. As the father presents an expose on how time dictates our understanding of life and everyone indulges in drink and the occasional retort, the tables are suddenly turned when Victor is asked whether, in his role as a doctor, he informed to the communist state police on women who wanted to get abortions – an illegal procedure before 1989. The answer is, in a nutshell, yes. Cue Ron Burgundy, as the situation escalates dramatically, Sasha and Romi become verbally aggressive towards Victor, he ends up fighting with Cosma, while Gilda tries meekly and helplessly to stop the madness.

It’s this kind of chaos that Illegitimate draws its energy from and tries to shape into a complicated discourse about the patriarchy, generational conflict, personal v class morality, women’s rights and abortion. While the effort can be appreciated, the movie is not disciplined enough to pull it off convincingly. You’ve got thin character development, characters whose only role is to advance the plot, a strange attempt at levity involving a hamster, your lead bearing the awful name of Romeo, some ill-timed dramatic close ups, which are all tied up with a neat little bow in a sub-par ending. Also, for a movie that deals about incest and abortion, in a country as secular as Romania, the matter barely comes up.

While this might all read rather damningly, there is enough coherence to go around and the artificial constructions are not overly intrusive; they probably just bugged me more than usual. Most of all, Alina Grigore’s portrayal of Sasha is fascinatingly convincing at times, even if the script can leave her little to work with. She’s passionate, restrained, compassionate, principled – but lost, a kind of contrast that comes across powerfully and draws you in. And the story conveys this tactfully, it allows the viewer to infer how overwhelming the recent loss of her (their) mother had been, how this is what has driven them so close together. The pace at which the movie unfolds also works in its favour, keeping it tight and eventful.

The movie’s greatest fault lies in its tonal disharmony, as the more emotionally demanding scenes tend to descend into melodrama, clumsily punctuated by profanities. While this eases some of the potentially overbearing tension stemming from its heavy subject matter, it also undermines the otherwise caustic build-up. Paradoxically, Illegitimate still works in spite of its self-indulgence – it’s an entertaining story of how a family implodes. It simply fails to punch as high as it aims to do.

Romanian film holds some interest despite scenario that strains credibility

Warning: there are some spoilers in this review.

This supposedly shocking Romanian film starts with a long, extended verbal fight during a family reunion, at which point I thought I was really going to hate this movie. The film, though, gets a bit better as it goes along. Victor is a widower with six grown children, three men and three women in their twenties and thirties. His offspring includes a set of twins, Romeo a boy and Sasha a girl. The fight gets started when, at the reunion, Sasha learns indignantly that her father, who is an obstetrician, during the Ceasescu regime, a period in which abortion was banned, denounced to the authorities women who were seeking to end their pregnancies. Victor replies to his daughter that his opposition to abortion allowed her to live, since her mother wanted an abortion at the time. Anyway, the fight ends, and as we learn more about the different characters, we get the central gimmick of the film: the two twins are lovers, and eventually she gets pregnant by his brother. This situation is seen as only slightly out of the normal. During the film, we see several scenes where one of the family members gets indignant on learning that the twins are lovers, but five minutes later, seems ready to accept them.

Despite all the talk we listen to, the film doesn’t have a lot of interesting things to say about either abortion on incest. Still, the movie holds some interest even if the scenario strains credibility. A great performance by Alina Grigore is Sasha, the twin who gets pregnant, is a plus for this so so movie.