Emanuel spends his days at a sanatorium. Falling in love with another patient, he narrates his and his fellow patients’ attempts to live life to the fullest as their bodies slowly fade away, but their minds refuse to give up.
This fanatically detailed, intellectually furious drama, set in 1937, in a Romanian seaside sanitarium, catches a young Jewish writer in the jaws of disease and of Fascism. Based on the autobiographical writings of Max Blecher, it shows Emanuel (Lucian Teodor Rus), a handsome and accomplished poet, enduring treatment for Pott’s disease—tuberculosis of the bone, which is rotting away his spine. The director, Radu Jude, unfolds the horrific treatment, involving long needles, tight wraps, and a full-body cast, with an unflinching and fascinated specificity that contrasts with the teeming theatrical tableaux in which he films life in the lavish facility. The medical regimen provides a background for the slow-motion whirl of young intellectuals, politicians, and socialites who turn the hospital into a microcosm of European diseases of the soul. Nighttime parties for youths with prostheses, crutches, and braces devolve into sordid roars of patriotic, militaristic, and anti-Semitic chants. Sex is rampant and calamitously unsatisfying; literary ambitions and romantic dreams seep away along with physical ability. The unstinting exertions of the medical personnel and the patients’ high-toned intelligence are as useless against disease as they are against Hitler and his local epigones. In Romanian.
— Richard Brody
Precisely nuanced and unashamedly intellectual, Scarred Hearts has emotional undercurrents that should make it slightly more accessible than Aferim!. Critical support could help to position it as serious, substantial arthouse fare and to further consolidate Jude’s reputation as a distinctive voice in current Romanian cinema.
Scarred Hearts claims to be “loosely” based on the writings of Max Blecher, the Romanian author and poet who died in 1938 at the age of 28. Diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis, he spent many years at a sanatorium on the Black Sea coast. His novel Scarred Hearts, often compared to Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, is a distillation of those experiences and the film is both a faithful adaptation of the book and a celebration of Blecher’s spirit.
Filmed on 35mm and in the Academy Ratio, Scarred Hearts feels almost literally like a window into the past. If it wasn’t for the richness of the colours and the precision of the framing, we might almost take these as precious home movies, a notion underlined by the succession of black and white photographs from the 1930s which are among the first things we see on screen.