The Museum of Fine Arts is hosting five screenings of the 2016 Romanian film “Scarred Hearts,” directed by Radu Jude, from Sept. 2–16. Adapted from the Romanian author Max Blecher’s biographical novel of the same name, the film portrays the experience of Emanuel (Lucian Teodor Rus), a hospitalized Romanian college student who suffers from Pott disease, a form of tuberculosis in the spine. As the film recounts the tragic decline of Emanuel’s health, it demonstrates his intense desire to live, even in the face of inevitable death.
Emanuel repeatedly turns to sex to remind himself of the passionate nature of life. Upon arriving at the sanatorium, Emanuel meets and falls in love with Solange (Ivana Mladenovic), a beautiful former patient. Their relationship quickly advances into a sexual one, a progression which Solange at first denies, fearing that it will exacerbate Emanuel’s disease. Midway through his relationship with Solange, Emanuel begins to develop a close friendship with Isa (Ilinca Harnut), another patient at the sanatorium, and eventually seduces her as well. By intimately associating himself with yet another warm body, Emanuel attempts to keep a firm grasp on life, even as it slips through his fingers.
Despite Emanuel’s desperation to remain alive, the concept of death makes its presence clear throughout the film, although in euphemistic ways; one of the film’s many intertitles describes Emanuel as suffering from “immense abandonment.” This theme also pertains to the physical presence of our body, since a motif of confinement and immobility recurs throughout the film. For example, to prevent Emanuel’s spine condition from worsening, the doctors use a plaster mold to stabilize Emanuel’s upper torso. Upon first wearing the mold, Emanuel says that it makes him look like a “statue.”
The film was shot in the Academy (1.375:1) ratio, which means that, in most contemporary theaters, portions of the screen on both the left and the right sides remain dark throughout the screening. This use of the ratio creates a sense of vintage, like it does in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014), and puts us back in 1930s, when the Academy ratio was the norm in the industry. In addition, it adds to the film’s sense of confinement by providing claustrophobic look into Emanuel’s confined life within the plaster cast.
In the end, the film does not cast an entirely desolate light on life. Following a despairing but realistic and climactic 10-minute take on the fate of Emanuel’s health, the film’s closing credits accompany the singing of morning birds – the start of another cycle of life. This subtle but ingenious touch at the very end of the film models the transcendentalist belief that death, as hopeless and unavoidable as it may seem, is not any type of permanent termination. Rather, it is part of a more grandiose, cosmic level of life.