MIA: Ioana Mischie on Her Balkan Comedy-Drama ‘237 Years’

First-time Romanian director prepares feature script inspired by real-life events

After the U.K.-financed eight-part 2014 Channel 4 documentary series “Tattoo Twist,” director Ioana Mischie has come to Rome with her first feature film, “237 Years.” Begun five years ago as Mischie’s graduation project, the script was accepted by the Berlinale’s Script Station early this year and polished further during the summer’s Sundance screenwriting lab at the Capalbio Festival in Tuscany.

Set in the remote village of Catane in 2008, “237 Years” follows in the tradition of such Romanian arthouse hits as “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and “Tales From the Golden Age,” being a social-realist drama with a darkly humorous bent.

“I like to call it a comedy about sorrow and a drama about happiness,” says Mischie. “It’s a bittersweet story about a community of villagers who declared (they all) had disabilities in order to get money from the state. Then one day they get inspected and each of them has to pretend to have them, and innovate all kinds of disability tools in order to fool the authorities. They initially succeed, but slowly they get discovered and are sentenced to a total amount of 237 years of arrest. However, after a few struggles, they set an example for society.” She laughs. “That’s the feel-good ending!”

As with “Tales From the Golden Age,” the film has its roots in recent history. Says the director: “In Romania in 2007, there were very many subsidies from the state that were given to people for disabilities and for marriages, and later it was discovered that many of these claims were fake. So I found it very interesting to focus on the people who did this, and in my story the characters are not doing this with avaricious intentions, they’re not doing it to get rich, they’re doing it because they have no other way to survive in a very bureaucratic system. They have no way to pay taxes, they have no income.

“So it’s inspired by true stories,” she continues, “but it’s very fictionalized. It’s also inspired by the fact that I grew up in a village and I’m very familiar with the atmosphere of the countryside and the wisdom of simple people – their ability to improvise and create, to find innovative ways to survive and to keep their traditions alive in a globalized world,” she continued.

“I was very keen to bring all these elements into a coherent cinematic universe that would not appeal only to Romanian audiences but also to a wider audience, ideally. It is my strongest hope that, although it has strong local roots, it can be easily understood by people around the world.”

Produced in collaboration with Alain Goldman’s Paris-based outfit Legende Films, whose head of development Vanessa Djian is described by Mischie as the film’s “guardian angel,” and Romania’s Icon Films, the € 1.3 million ($1.5 million) budgeted project is currently at first-draft stage, and Mischie is seeking development money to have a final draft by the year’s end.

“Ideally it will be a very Balkan story, with a very Balkan feel,” says Mischie. “I see it as the intersection between the atmosphere of Emir Kusturica and the style of Wes Anderson, with those nice, geometrically composed shots, but with a very strong personal input. Because I would like the film to feel very intimate, and I would love to create characters that inspire solidarity and empathy.”

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