History can often seem impersonal. Names like Wat Tyler, numbers like 800,000 and places like Timișoara often lie flat on a textbook page, barely read and soon forgotten. But historical events are made up of people and people are made up of childhoods, imperfect parents, favourite foods - the list could dominate an entire syllabus let alone a textbook. In My Romanian Diary, writer and director Carmen Lidia Vidu highlights the commingling of personal past and the larger flow of historical tides.
As the title suggests, the short takes the form of a diary. Beginning with her grandmother’s childhood and working all the way up to her present, Vidu uses a mix of cartoonish animations, family photos, German narration and English text to tell her stories. Although the combinations of images and text are, at times, a little overcrowded, this film gives an engaging overview of life in Romania in the twentieth century.
One thing that Vidu does very well is the portrayal of women’s rights. Her swimming, cycling and karate lessons born out of constant encouragement from her father seem a world away from her grandmother’s only two options: become a nun or marry a violent alcoholic. And yet, some things remain unchanged. Her brave depiction of the sexual assault she suffered when she was only seven (her parents discovered this only through watching this film) as well as the constant inequality she has faced in competitive sports are reminders of how much work we have yet to do.
These personal stories are effective in communicating large-scale injustices: it is one thing to hear mindboggling statistics but quite another to hear the hurt and the damage behind each and every number first-hand. While this could seem like an overwhelming amount of pain to overcome, Vidu’s portrayal of the past on both a small and large scale is also empowering; if history is made up of individuals then each and every one of us surely has the power to change something. However, at times, the short goes into a bit too much personal detail. A long description of her personality or several minutes discussing all the times she’s nearly been hit by cars could have easily been cut without detracting from the story.
Vidu’s use of moving animations, bright colours and text is both eye-catching and evocative of the childhood she is portraying. Nevertheless, the constant movement of image, text and narration overfills the screen, making it difficult to take it all in. For example, in one scene, writing and images spill out simultaneously over six different squares. Perhaps both the story and its presentation would have benefitted from being slightly more pared down.
In spite of this, My Romanian Diary gives us an insight into Romanian culture, both past and present, which denies the generalisations and homogenisations that happen so easily in portrayals of other countries. By weaving the general with the specific, Vidu successfully enlivens this small slice of history.
'My Romanian Diary' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.