CLUJ, Romania–Two students accused of cheating by an older professor appeal to him for clemency, only to end up in his apartment, where he quickly gains the upper-hand. After initially succumbing to his advances, one of the girls tries to resist, prompting a gut-wrenching denouement as he’s determined to get his way.

“Mo” is the feature directorial debut of Radu Dragomir, who was inspired by real-life events to tell a story that confronts Romania’s troubling track record with rape. It stars Dana Rogoz, Mădălina Craiu, and Răzvan Vasilescu, and is produced by Scharf Film Production and Strada Film, with support from the Romanian Film Center, Media Investment, The Group and Elmiplant. The film had its world premiere this week at the Transilvania Film Festival.

Dragomir spoke to Variety about the real-life events that inspired “Mo,” why #MeToo hasn’t caught on in Romania, and whether local audiences are ready for his provocative debut film.

‘Mo’ was inspired by real events pulled from the news. What made you want to dramatize that story for your first feature film?

It’s not important that we started from a real story, because it happens all the time [in Romania], and people would believe anyway that this happens all the time. When I finished the script, I gave it to some people in the industry to read, and one of them – an important one – said, ‘You don’t have a subject. You don’t even need to make a movie—it’s a stupid script. Because if those two stupid girls go to his apartment, there’s no surprise, and you don’t have a reason to make the film.’ I thought about this, and then I decided I really have to do this.

When I finished the film, just when I finished the production, the whole #MeToo campaign started. And this confirmed for me that I made a good choice by making the film.

The #MeToo movement hasn’t really caught on in Romania. Why don’t you think this has become a bigger conversation?

Another thing that greatly influenced my film and the script-writing process was a statistic made at the European level which asked if rape can be justified in certain circumstances. If the victim drinks alcohol, if she goes to his apartment, if she doesn’t say a decisive ‘no.’ Thirty percent of Europe said it was justified; in Romania, it was 55%. We are the top.

This modified my script. In the beginning, everything was more aggressive. And then I went to that limit where the 55% thought it was justified. I would like, ideally, that those 55% will see all those circumstances and that they’re opinion in the end will be that this is not justified, this is awful.

When we first meet the professor, he’s a very stern, almost authoritarian figure. But later on, in his apartment, he becomes much more complex: Charming, sensitive, wounded by his own disappointments. Yet at the same time, someone who has – and wields — power over Mo and Vera, in a disturbing way. Did you have any reservations about portraying him at times so sympathetically?

That was my intention. But in the end, I also want to say that he’s a monster. In fact, all of what we see of him throughout is a façade that he has control over. But in fact, he’s malicious. We rehearsed about a month with the actors. Only text. They knew exactly how the script would go, and all the subtext, but they didn’t know the blocking. We could have done it in one take. It was also a production problem because we didn’t have enough funds, so we finished in 13 days.

The rape scene is especially hard to watch as a viewer. Do you think Romanian audiences will struggle with such a graphic and challenging film?

I think so. I already had that reaction from the audience, and I think it’s very good.

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Scharf Film Production