Scarred Hearts

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - Scarred Hearts Scarred Hearts Scarred Hearts, The Magic Moun­tain.

At once in­ti­mate in its set­ting and broad in its scope, Ro­ma­nian di­rec­tor Radu Jude’s is a lifeaf­firm­ing story with an un­likely pro­tag­o­nist. Emanuel (Lu­cian Teodor Rus), a young Ro­ma­nian Jew, en­ters a hospi­tal for treat­ment of Pott’s dis­ease, a form of bone tu­ber­cu­lo­sis. De­spite the doc­tor’s many re­as­sur­ances that the af­flic­tion is noth­ing to be overly con­cerned about, Emanuel’s time is spent un­der­go­ing painful spinal pro­ce­dures. He is con­fined to a full cast that cov­ers his lanky torso and spends most of the film pros­trate in bed. Yet he’s in the prime of his life, and doesn’t let his ill­ness stop him from mak­ing the most of it. He smokes, drinks, and carouses. He makes an awk­ward at­tempt at cop­u­la­tion, vexed by his cast, and falls in love.

The story is told pri­mar­ily from Emanuel’s per­spec­tive as he nar­rates and re­flects on the di­chotomy of heal­ing and death the sana­to­rium rep­re­sents. For some, the hospi­tal is the last place they’ll ever see. For oth­ers, it’s a pit stop, a place to get well and be on their way. Af­ter Emanuel’s con­di­tion com­mits him to the hospi­tal long term, he finds the com­pany of fel­low pa­tients and the iras­ci­ble doc­tor who smokes dur­ing med­i­cal pro­ce­dures prefer­able to the out­side world. The film is set in Ro­ma­nia in the 1930s on the eve of au­thor­i­tar­ian ruler Ion An­tonescu’s rise to power amid a cli­mate of na­tion­al­ism and an­tisemitism. The pa­tients are some­what in­su­lated from these ex­ter­nal threats; the sana­to­rium is a self­con­tained mi­cro­cosm of earthly ex­is­tence.

Jude’s screen­play, loosely based on an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel of Ro­ma­nian au­thor Max Blecher, takes a clin­i­cal ap­proach to its ob­ser­vances of events in­side the hospi­tal, show­ing ev­ery­thing from a slight dis­tance. This de­tach­ment con­trasts with the con­va­les­cent’s rich in­ner mus­ings. Still, only oc­ca­sion­ally, and usu­ally dur­ing mo­ments where he is en­dur­ing the suf­fer­ing wrought by rad­i­cal treat­ments, does the ex­pe­ri­ence be­come more vis­ceral, up close, and per­sonal.

Jude goes to great pains to bring a lit­er­ary sense to the pro­ceed­ings, oc­ca­sion­ally in­sert­ing ex­plana­tory text that mir­rors the di­a­logue and re­flects on the on­screen ac­tion. He adds com­po­si­tional el­e­ments that are overtly in­spired by those of the Dutch Masters. The film’s moody in­te­rior set­tings, warm col­ors, and cham­ber mu­sic-style score all seem to com­ple­ment the sense that we’ve en­tered into the nar­ra­tive of a pic­to­rial genre scene.

is in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing and full of dry wit, es­pe­cially on the part of Dr. Ceafalan, who seems to strad­dle a line be­tween com­pas­sion, dis­in­ter­est, and sub­tle sadism, played with dead­pan hi­lar­ity by Ser­ban Pavlu. Per­haps wisely, the ris­ing tide of fas­cist sen­ti­ment is left as a back­drop, rarely in­trud­ing on the bu­colic vil­lage set­ting for which the sana­to­rium is a stand-in. it seems, would rather fo­cus on life, with death com­ing into the pic­ture as a nec­es­sary com­po­nent of life, and on the bac­cha­na­lian plea­sures that even con­va­les­cents might sa­vor.

In watch­ing it, one is re­minded of Thomas Mann’s Emanuel, a lat­ter-day Hans Cas­torp, is per­haps less mal­con­tent than Mann’s pro­tag­o­nist, who, at the out­break of war, even­tu­ally an­swers the call to re­turn from the moun­tain. But Emanuel has found a place where life ex­ists in all its thrall. He knows that out­side the hospi­tal walls, there lies a de­scent into the in­evitabil­ity that awaits us all.

— Michael Abatemarco

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