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Where Elephants Go

Highly experimental, bonkers Romanian film follows three lonely citizens of Bucharest as desperately seek to inject meaning into their lives - in the Official Competition of the 23 Tiff Romania


Marcel (Stefan Mihai) is a young and good-looking man without a purpose in life, and borderline suicidal. He spends most of his day loafing around on the streets of the Romanian capital, a medium-size, bustling metropolis with crowds of anonymous strangers in a hurry, a small jungle of high-rise buildings, and even a metro system. He finds excitement in pulling pranks on strangers. He mimics the gestures of a dapper and easily irritable gentleman walking down the streets, very much a la Charlie Chaplin. He asks random women a very blunt “do you want to fuck?”. The outcome is almost invariably catastrophic. Until one day the sharp and pragmatic Magda (Alice Cora Mihalache) accepts his unorthodox invitation. Without even asking his name, she gives him her address and the two arrange to meet. But the outcome isn’t as straightforward as it first seemed.

The film title presumably refers to the mythical elephants’ graveyard, a place where these mammals instinctively go to die, suddenly breaking away from their community. These characters too have strayed from normative society, and are looking absolution in very different ways. Marcel seeks sex and provocation. Magda works in the margins, in a trade mostly frowned upon , and is desperately trying to shelter her young daughter Leni (Carina Lăpuşneanu) from harm, as the child recovers from her cancer treatment. Leni wants to talk and play, and is particularly fond of pink graffiti. She is a sharp-tongued, feisty girl ready to challenge adults, often to funny and endearing results. To her mum’s despair, she remains blithely unaware (or perhaps in self-denial) of the gravity of her condition.

Much of the action takes place outdoors: in parks, on the streets, or even balconies and rooftops. The urban space is the stage and the canvas upon which these three people etch their fears and desires. Bucharest is not the picture of liberation. In fact, it feels more like a trap than like a place of catharsis and absolution. Indeed like a graveyard of dreams and ambitions. This is a movie that seeks to soothe the pain of cancer, suicidal thoughts and prostitution with little moments and gestures of comic relief. Leni dubbing Marcel and Magda from behind a glass window is perhaps the movie’s funniest scene. It partly works. While the message and the noble intentions of the filmmakers remain clear, the developments are just too cryptic and fragmented for emotional rapture. At times, the story feels more aimless than freeform.

This is a very experimental film endeavour. It opens with a handheld aerial view of the Romanian capital, the handheld camera moving aimlessly, abruptly zooming in and out, focus shifting rapidly, for no apparent reason. These antics are used several times throughout the film. This sophomore feature (the Romanian directors Catalin Rotaru and Gabi Virginia Sarga also worked together on their debut Thou Shalt Not Kill, in 2018) are flipping the bird to film conventions, and proudly embracing low-budget aesthetics. This is a brave decision, however not without risks. After a while, the repetition of these cheap tricks feels trite and gratuitous. More film school than Jean-Luc Godard.

Where Elephants Go is in the Official Competition of the 23rd Tiff Romania. A charming film experiment that won’t stay with you for a long time.

By Victor Fraga - 21-06-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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