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Toronto/San Sebastián: Beta Cinema Acquires ‘Soldiers. A Story From Ferentari’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Gay love story explores the emotions of poverty, abandonment

Munich-based Beta Cinema is partnering with Berlin Golden Bear-winning Romanian producer Ada Solomon (“Child’s Pose,” “Aferim,” ’Toni Erdmann”) on “Soldiers. A Story from Ferentari,” a contemporary gay love story set in the notorious Roma neighborhood of Ferentari, on the outskirts of Bucharest.

Beta Cinema will handle world sales rights on the film, the narrative feature debut of Serbia’s Ivana Mladenovic, whose caché has grown steadily given its backing – Solomon at Romania’s Hi Film Productions, Serbia’s Film House Bas Celik, Belgium’s Frakas Prods – and selection, announced earlier this week, for the Toronto Festival’s Discovery section.

Buzz was already been growing on the title before the announcement in early August of its main competition berth at San Sebastian Festival, with several sales agents talking up the title. It has finally been tied down by Beta Cinema, a prestige sales house whose Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian slate of selected and upcoming titles mixes emerging talent with name auteurs such as Israel’s Eran Riklis (“Shelter”) and “The Lives of Others’” Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“Werk Ohne Autor”).

Billed as a modern Romeo and Juliet story, and written by Mladenovic and Adrian Schiop, on whose fictionalized biography the film is based, “Soldiers. A Story From Ferentari,” turns on the relationship between Adi (played by Schiop himself), a laid-back bourgeois academic who moves to Ferentari to write a doctorate on Roma urban manele music, and Alberto (Vasile Pavel Digudai) , a big-girthed hulk of an ex-con who has served 14 years in jail. Alberto offers to put Adi in contact with a manele music producer.

As unlikely as they may seem as a couple, romance blossoms between them. “Soldiers” develops into not a picturesque portrait of poverty – though their are stunning set piece scenes at a Roma dance hall and street wedding – but a study of the psychological effects of poverty and ostracism and power and culture politics between Adi and Alberto, whose size and prison record scares the hell out of Adi’s acquaintances.

“Poverty is not something to be contemplated, it isn’t a source of magic,” Mladenovic has commented. She added: “Being poor or economically dependent generates a very low level of self-esteem.”

A portrait of a queer marginalized couple in a marginalized community and neighborhood, “Soldiers. A Story of Ferentari” builds on Mladenovic’s docu-feature “Turn off the Lights.” Multi-prized, it turns on three men who are released from prison, after years behind bars, into their rambunctious Roma community and have to navigate the challenges of their startling new freedoms. It screened at 2012’s Tribeca Film Festival. An alum of Bucharest’s UNATC I.L. Caragiale, as an actress Mladenovic starred in Radu Jude’s “Scarred Hearts,” a 2016 Locarno Special Jury Prize winner.

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