Imagine making two movies at exactly the same time.
That’s exactly what Romanian-born, New York-based director Bogdan George Apetri did while making “Miracle,” which played last week in the feature film competition at the Zurich Film Festival shortly after world premiering at Venice.
Filmed in Romania, “Miracle” is the second part of a trilogy of films written and directed by Apetri, and was recently picked up by Memento International. The first part, “Unidentified,” won the Special Jury Prize at the Warsaw Film Festival in 2020.
Both are self-contained stories, but feature many of the same characters and are filmed in and around the same Romanian town. “We literally shot three days on one movie, two days on the other,” says Apetri. “Some days we shot ‘Unidentified’ up to lunch, and then we shot ‘Miracle’ – or vice versa.”
It was a crazy and intense, 40-day experience, says Apetri, who also teaches film directing at Columbia University in New York. “Our DoP Oleg Mutu was amazing. He said he would never do it again in his life. But I think he secretly enjoyed it!”
Both films have received glowing reviews. Yet they are very different stylistically, and so will the third be, which Apetri is currently writing.
“Miracle” is a crime drama that builds slowly and intensely over 42 long takes across its one hour and 53 minutes. It is the story of a young woman who sneaks out of a convent early one morning and takes a cab to the hospital of a small Romanian town. When she fails to return in the evening, a police inspector is assigned to investigate and retrace her steps – and does so with a growing obsession.
Apetri describes it as a movie of two chapters. The first half follows the young woman, while the second sees the inspector retracing her steps through the same locations.
“It’s like a mirror structure,” he explains. “Two halves that seem to be unconnected. But as you go in, you find deeper and deeper connections.”
The connections might not necessarily be particular story points, they could be sounds, the way the camera moves or the way that each character looks in one particular location. “If you put the images side by side, they look at each other so it creates some kind of a subliminal connection between them. And, of course, it’s supported by the plot. It’s not just some arty way of doing connections. Plot-wise and story-wise, it’s very simple. I was trying to go deep, not wide.”
Some have placed the film within the context of the new wave of Romanian cinema, citing its long takes, realistic settings and implicit criticism of corruption in the country.
While an admirer of the Romanian new wave, Apetri distances the film from it. “ ‘Miracle’ has absolutely nothing to do with Romanian cinema, as far as I am concerned.” The long takes, he says, were used because that is how he wanted to build the movie, not because he wanted to adhere to a particular filmmaking philosophy. “You need to feel the weight of time, the way time passes, to appreciate the ending.”
By the end, any sense of realism is exploded as the meaning of the film’s title becomes clear. “It’s almost going against Romanian cinema, which relies on realism,” says Apetri.