21 April 2019 | dromasca
a case of bad education
'One Step Behind the Seraphim' reminded me Pedro Almodóvar's "Bad Education" in many ways. Both films can be seen as recovery exercises from old traumas by sharing personal experiences many years later, films in which the directors included part of the personal experiences of the years spent in religious education systems. Both films take place in countries (Spain and Romania) which came out of nights of dictatorship. The difference is that in Almodóvar's film the religious school system belonged to the old regime, while in Daniel Sandu's film the Orthodox theological school that is presented (for the first time as far as I know in a Romanian film) was allowed to function freely only after the 1989 revolution. In both films, the heroes, children or teenagers, are confronted with the rigidity of dogmatic systems and evil personalities among teachers who will influence their roads in life.
The heroes in Daniel Sandu's film are not presented as passive victims. They are at the age of uncertainties and discoveries, but also at the point where they can begin to discern between good and evil and may decide to collaborate with evil to fight against it. Director Daniel Sandu, in his first feature film, comes from this world. Although he has left it many years ago, he does not look back with anger, but rather tries to describe the system and the people who populate it, as he knew them in the first decade after the fall of Communism. The image is not radically different from that of the 'outside' world, there is corruption and dogmatism, but guilt seems rather personal. So is the revolt of young people, whose conflict seems more personal than anti-dogmatic. The final scene (a visual quote from '1984') suggests acceptance and integration in the system after the danger has passed, at least for the time being.
'One Step Behind the Seraphim' succeeds very well in describing the group of young men on the threshold of maturity, at the age and in the phase of experiences and rebellions. The team of young actors is doing a great job, each of the characters is well built and different from the others. I am not a great amateur of coming to age movies, but the quality of the acting game conquered me, with a special mention for Stefan Iancu, a reincarnation of James Dean in Romanian cinema. Vlad Ivanov proves with every new role that he is one of the great Romanian actors of the moment. His character embodies the continuity of corruption in the Romanian society, the perpetuation of the old methods of denunciations and personal files in combination with the new rhetoric, the one of the church in this case, which they compromise through contamination. Director Daniel Sandu demonstrated professionalism in leading the actors and story telling. The film is a bit long but it avoids ostentation and remains in memory because of the thematic and of its heroes. 'One Step Behind the Seraphim' adds a new facet to the complex image of Romanian cinema.