Playing with a heavy topic and rising moral dilemmas almost impossible to answer, Adrian Sitaru’s Illegitimate blurs the lines between what fits in the norms of society’s perception of ‘normal’ and ‘right’ by showing an ‘unorthodox’ love story set in a traditionalist country like Romania.

The film presents the complicated dynamic of the Anghelescu family, made up of Victor (Adrian Titieni), a fifty year old man which confines to the stereotype of the father as the ‘head of the family’, and his four children Sasha (Alina Grigore), Romeo (Robi Urs), Cosma (Bogdan Albulescu) and Gilda (Cristina Olteanu). From the very beginning, Illegitimate dives right into one of the “taboos” in films – abortion –which used to be illegal before the 1989 revolution. Victor’s children confront him about his past actions as a gynaecologist during the communist era while having lunch, and the question whether he used to denounce the women that wanted to have an abortion starts a massive conflict in the family, which puts the father and children on different sides of the barricade. However, an even heavier subject overshadows the initial one – the realisation that two twins, Sasha and Romeo, have been sexually involved for some time, are in love, and, even more, are expecting a child.

Adrian Sitaru seems to be particularly interested in portraying social issues in his films, whose plots revolve around complicated characters and strange situations such as the murder of a prostitute (Hooked, 2008), a paranoid man facing a complicated health care system (Best Intentions, 2011) or a family relationship troubled by their pets (Domestic, 2012). However, Illegitimate addresses how tolerance and forgiveness might work differently when blood relations are involved, and how something that from the outside might be seem shocking and in fact, profane, can be debatable within a family.

Funded exclusively independent, the low budget that was used to make the film is obvious in parts, but isn’t necessarily a total disadvantage. Having the freedom of improvisation, Alina Grigore – who also co-wrote the script – and Robi Urs are convincing as the two twenty year old twins, which still sleep in the same bed and live with their father, and the hyperrealism of the picture manages to make the story more compelling, enabling the viewer to empathise with the characters’ flaws. The small apartment in which the Anghelescu family lives and the cramped spaces in which the action is set create an almost claustrophobic feeling, a forced closeness which helps justify the natures of the relationships that the characters develop and also the inevitable conflicts that arise.

Illegitimate is ultimately a story about how easy it is to judge a situation without really trying to understand it and how complicated bonds and feelings can be amongst family members. It doesn’t point fingers or lecture on what is right or wrong, but just lays the ground for a complicated debate covered in shades of grey.

★★★ (and a half)

Diana Dumitrescu