TIFF Review: Soldiers. Story from Ferentari

Soldiers. Story from Ferentari (Soldatii. Poveste din Ferentari)
(Romania/Serbia/Belgium, 119 min.)
Dir. Ivana Mladenovic, Writ. Adrian Schiop, Ivana Mladenovic
Starring: Adrian Schiop, Vasile Pavel-Digudai
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF
In a world of repressed morals, social taboos, and restricted freedoms, alter-egos are inevitable tools to help individuals explore their hidden desires. Soldiers. Story from Ferentari draws from such a tale in its adaptation of Adrian Schiop’s “fictionalized biography” and it delivers a rugged gay bromance in the conservative and impoverished Roma ghetto of Ferentari, Bucharest. The film finds an intriguing natural style as Schiop stars in the adaptation of the adaptation of his life, while non-professional actors and kitchen-sink mise en scène makes Soldiers. Story from Ferentari an authentic tale of forbidden love.

The two Romeos, Adi (Schiop) and Alberto (Vasile Pavel-Digudai), meet while Adi is in the field getting research for his PhD on music. Alberto, a portly man with a troubled past and a long history of time served in prison, is a regular at the pub, so he’s always up for a conversation and, better yet, a free drink. Drinking buddies become acquaintances and soon, somehow, Alberto is back at Adi’s place for a few drinks.

Neither man is a cruiser, though, or looking for dudes in the old-fashioned ways that pre-date dating apps. Adi is quiet but Alberto is a boisterous bro, and when the latter suggests they dial up a hooker and kick the party up a notch with a threesome, the host becomes meek and awkward. He’d rather they spend the night drinking.

It turns out that the guys don’t need the lady of the night for fun at all. What becomes a secretive tryst quickly turns into a tender affair. The men must hide their feelings from friends and neighbours, though, lest conservatism squash both their lives.

Director Ivana Mladenovic lets the situation do the talking in Soldiers as the realism and authenticity of the characters’ situation and surroundings. This rare portrait of queer love in Eastern Europe, or the struggle to realize one’s desire, offers a unique glimpse into the minds of the men of a conservative society. Adi and Alberto struggle to break through the mould of masculinity they carry and it’s a tough shell to crack. When the film closes with its final glimpses of Alberto, wandering the streets and hustling to survive, the film provides an effective portrait of one lost soul among many.

Find more TIFF coverage here.

TIFF runs Sept. 7-17. Visit TIFF.net for info and showtimes.