First of All, Felicia Review
With screenwriting credits that include The Death of Mr Lazarescu and Stuff and Dough for Cristi Puiu, as well as Boogie and Tuesday, After Christmas for Radu Muntean, you get the impression that Razvan Radulescu could put two people together alone in a room for an entire film and make a compelling and entertaining drama out of it. In some ways his debut directing feature First of all, Felicia isn’t really much more than this, the majority of the film being a two-hander between a daughter and her mother as they try to overcome the problems of a missed flight at a Bucharest airport. So precise and measured is the script however – to say nothing of the exceptional performances of Ozana Oancea and Ileana Cernat – that the film manages to turn a wonderfully witty and humorous comedy of errors into a deeper examination of generational and family conflict, set against the backdrop of Romania’s place in the new Europe.
Before it gets to the airport however, First of all, Felicia sets the scene wonderfully in the Bucharest flat of the Mateescu family, where the eldest daughter Felicia, who now lives in Amsterdam, has been staying with her mother and father for a short holiday. The roles and the character of her mother and father are delightfully and entertainingly laid-out, the father recovering from an operation for a serious illness, his every movement, every bite of food and the distribution of his pills being observed and stipulated by Felicia’s overly fussy but well-meaning mother. Mrs Mateescu can’t help herself with her daughter either, watching her make her preparations while packing for the return flight to Amsterdam, insisting on what she should and shouldn’t take, the tastes of mother and daughter – one old-fashioned, the other modern – being a source of conflict that is firmly but politely resisted by Felicia.
Nonetheless, when it comes to passive-aggressive behaviour, Felicia’s mother knows no match, and despite efforts to make her own way to the airport, and get there on time, Felicia finds the check-in closes and has to deal with her mother’s well-meaning interference in addition to the stress of organising another flight to Amsterdam. Felicia is perhaps more like her mother than she would like to admit, the situation made more difficult by her own family circumstances, as she tries to deal on the phone with the tensions between herself and her Dutch ex-husband, trying to arrange for someone to pick up their son from summer camp in case she can’t manage to rearrange an alternative flight on time.
All of this is delightfully and playfully handled, the script sparkling with humour and wry observations of generational differences and family conflict, capturing the depth of the complexity of the mother/child relationship directly as well as indirectly through her mother’s relationship with her father and her younger sister Iulia, who seems to have gotten an easier ride than Felicia over the years. In the new Romania, there would also seem to be a change in the traditional roles of men and women, the importance of Felicia’s father now reduced to allowing him to feel he is being useful by ordering a taxi to the airport for his daughter, while his attempts to draw on the influence of his old Communist friends in charge at the airport to alter the course of international flight timetables for his daughter is heart-warming but laughably naïve to the realities of how Romania now has to fit into a new world order where money speaks louder than influence.
With her European sensibility and her ability to deal with Euros, the complexities of mobile phone communication and negotiation over business class flights, and her determination to be independent, Felicia would appear to be more capable were she not hampered by her family background and their provincial Romanian ways. In reality, she’s struggling on her own and lacking the support of a network of family and friends that she can count on, and conflicted or even resentful of having been pushed – the timing of her move to Europe significantly just before the revolution in Romania – into a European lifestyle that hasn’t worked entirely smoothly for her.
So well and cleverly scripted is the film however, that little of this is brought out on the surface in direct conflict, but rather all her own frustrations, tensions and insecurities are superbly mirrored in her negotiations with her former husband and in her resistance of her mother’s efforts as she attempts to organise a return flight to the Netherlands. Meticulously paced, with laugh-out loud moments of wit and subtle insinuation, things do eventually reach a head in a showdown with her mother that takes the film to a perfectly timed and immaculately performed dramatic peak. The everyday setting a simple domestic crisis and the naturalism of the dialogue in the various encounters however belies the brilliance of Razvan Radulescu’s script and the near invisibility of the subtle direction. First of all, Felicia might seem like a light-hearted comedy, but in its own way, it delivers as devastating a portrait of the complexity and failings of human relations and interaction in the changing modern world as The Death of Mr Lazarescu.