We plan. God laughs

A birthday pendant for you! Maria (Crina Semciuc) helps Magda (Ana Indricau) to put on her gift in a scene from the Romanian film Mikado, on this year’s European Film Festival South Africa, until 28 October. Photograph courtesy imdb.

OUR LIVES ARE replete with things that happen for reasons we don’t know. Things force our plans to change. Sudden news changes what constitutes our identity. We don’t really know what causes what, and why. Even though, in our hubris, we think we do. The Romanian film Mikado, made by Emanuel Parvu offers an understanding of fate that will blow your mind. You can see it on this year’s European Film Festival, which is online and at cinemas in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, between 12 and 22 October, in eSwatini between 20 and 22 October and Lesotho between 26 and 28 October 2023.

It is the birthday of teenager Magda (Ana Indricau) and her father gives her a white gold pendant on a chain as a gift. She goes with the glow of being a birthday girl, to a cancer ward, where she knows everyone, and where her boyfriend, Iulian (Tudor Cucu-Dumitrescu), is entertaining the young patients with magic tricks. It’s a happy space, bruised by the presence of chemotherapy on the very young. And that precious pendant is the cipher for how fate touches Magda’s future.

This tragic tale bracketed by catastrophic news is told with a wise directorial hand and a sophisticated leash on too many tears or the expression of superfluous emotion. It’s a tale of guilt and your own understanding of yourself in someone else’s pain. But it is also about that extra nudge of trauma inflicted upon you that can hurt you more deeply than you think. It’s a concept also addressed in the hauntingly beautiful film Close, which is another must-see on this year’s festival and it offers a painfully exquisite gloss on who we are, as human beings who can receive and inflict damage on one another, with the flick of an eyebrow or a whisper of malice.

Mikado, known as Marocca in the original, references the parlour game of pick-up-sticks, which involves a number of uniformly sized sticks, dropped randomly together. The aim of the game is to pick up one stick at a time without carelessly displacing others. The premise of the film is about how one piece of information carelessly despatched can cause the world to be utterly displaced for another person.

It’s undoubtedly one of the top films on this year’s festival, with a denouement right at the end that will leave you gasping for breath, in its moment of horror, logic and balance all at once. Just see it.

  • Mikado is directed by Emanuel Parvu and features a cast headed by Tudor Cucu-Dumitrescu, Ana Indricau, Serban Pavlu and Crina Semciuc. Written by Emanuel Parvu and Alexandru Popa, it is produced by Miruna Berescu and Jordi Niubó and features creative input by Silviu Stavilã (cinematography), Dan Stefan Parlog (editing) and Eduard Enache (costumes). In Romanian with English subtitles, it is part of the 10th European Film Festival South Africa, screening at The Zone in Rosebank Johannesburg, The Labia in Cape Town, Gateway in Durban and online until 22 October, with satellite programmes in eSwatini 20-22 October and in Lesotho, 26-28 October 2023.

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