Editor’s Notes: The following review of Miss Christina is part of our coverage for the 12th Annual Transilvania International Film Festival. For more information on Miss Christina visit http://tiff.ro/en and follow TIFF Romania on Twitter at @TIFFromania.
The vampire film certainly has changed. No longer do we deal with the dread that so defined Tod Browning’s Dracula and F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Instead of being fearful of vampires, hordes of teenage girls yearn for the gentle embrace of some sparkly blood-drinker that more likely listens to Dashboard Confessional than Wagner. Vampires used to be dark creatures of doom, plagued by sadness and encapsulating brutal sexuality. Miss Christina, an exploration in old gothic style, has much more in common with Bela Lugosi than Robert Pattinson.
Egor (Tudor Aaron Istodor) is a young painter. He is traveling with Sanda (Ioana Anastasia Anton), the object of his affection, to her family home. He hopes to spend time away from his busy city life to relax and focus on his painting. Upon arriving at Sanda’s home it becomes evident that something is off. The local town is struggling due to drought and dwindling livestock, and on top of that, Sanda’s mother appears forlorn and ill. It turns out that Sanda’s younger sister Simina (Ioana Sandu) claims to share conversations in her dreams with Miss Christina (Anastasia Dumitrescu), her long-dead aunt. Getting sucked into the dramatics of his environment, Egor finds that Miss Christina may have more of a presence than he wishes to believe.
Vampires used to be dark creatures of doom, plagued by sadness and encapsulating brutal sexuality. Miss Christina, an exploration in old gothic style, has much more in common with Bela Lugosi than Robert Pattinson.
Upon first glance, it is easy to miss the film’s connection to vampirism. The V-word isn’t ever spoken on screen and the film only gently implies the inspiration. Miss Christina appears to mostly be a ghost, but the context clues are there. It’s time to do a little digging. The troubles of the surrounding town are alluded to with direct mention to the animals dying of blood related issues. The characters’ fascination with Christina never implies possession, rather a hypnosis that overtakes them. The sexuality of Christina and her need to have Egor lust after her is decidedly vampiric. Simina serves as our Renfield and is often our most direct evidence of the film’s genealogy. It may not ever be stated but this is a classically-inspired vampire film.
Child actor Ioana Sandu may just be the best thing about the entire film. Her Simina is terrifyingly creepy and the most imposing of all involved. Her diminutive stature fades away as she commands her scenes with complete confidence. As conditions degrade within the mansion, Simina’s joy appears to conversely grow. Sandu has an angelic face and a smile that would normally feel sweet; however, she artfully twists her performance into dark territories. Istodor’s Egor is our eyes into the world. Perhaps more praise should go his way in his ability to be unimposing. His performance serves its purpose as the audience is meant to experience the events through him. He does not leave a lasting impression but subtly brings you closer into the film as you gaze in wondered confusion just as he does. Unfortunately for him and the surrounding performances, particularly Dumitrescu’s Christina—which nicely hops between romantic and aggressive—Sandu cannot be topped. She delivers a mature performance that elicits fear at the tender sight of a child.
Child actor Ioana Sandu may just be the best thing about the entire film. Her Simina is terrifyingly creepy and the most imposing of all involved. Her diminutive stature fades away as she commands her scenes with complete confidence.
Atmosphere is where this film excels. The opening shots alone are beautiful and depressing. A forlorn Egor desperately trying to replicate the face of Christina on a dilapidated mansion wall doesn’t need words, and the swelling score is all the accompaniment that the images require. As we first meet Egor, the film’s color palette is bright; as the dread and tension builds through the film so is the palette drained of its joy. Director Alexandru Maftei does not restrict himself too closely to the gothic tradition, instead mixing a healthy sampling of the old with aesthetic choices all his own. The dream sequences are a visual delight. He captures the detached feeling and inability of escape masterfully. The tension builds slowly and a solemn mood gently draws you in. It is only too bad that the script is not as strong as his direction. The film has the tendency to bore and as it approaches the end, rushes to tie up as many of its loose ends as possible. Overall, Maftei has a talented eye that often overcomes a dull screenplay.
It can be easy to forget the deep roots that exist in film. The Twilights of today have morphed a dark concept into an idea of romantic teen angst and love. Miss Christina takes the vampire tradition back to its dark, lonely roots. All the actors involved deliver well-illustrated characters but the true standout is Ioana Sandu. Sandu is not happy to be just another creepy child in a dark film; her accomplished portrayal of Simina is upsettingly threatening. The film develops a mood that merges gothic traditions with modern visual sensibilities. Director Alexandru Maftei’s keen eye communicates a visual feast that nearly makes up for an often flat screenplay. Miss Christina is a beautifully shaded, although occasionally empty, film that harkens back to the gothic milieu of years gone by.
[notification type=”star”]72/100 ~ GOOD. Miss Christina takes the vampire tradition back to its dark, lonely roots.[/notification]