Romania’s foreign-language submission for the 2018 Academy Awards, The Fixer had its British premiere this month at the Romanian Cultural Institute in London as part of Cinematheque, a monthly programme that focuses on promoting Romanian cinema. The movie comes out of the Romanian neo-realist cinema tradition that recently claimed prizes at Cannes and Berlin (Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr Lazarescu, Christian Mungiu’s 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days), even though The Fixer’s Franco-Romanian cast and plot can hardly be pinned down to a particular framing. Based on a real story, the film reveals the problematic ways in which a team of journalists gain access to an underage victim of prostitution. The Fixer’s documentary value, discreetly woven into the narrative, is refreshingly contemporary, asking pertinent questions about the destructive power of media.
Radu, played by Aaron Tudor Istodor, is a father and an aspiring journalist. As the movie unfolds, these two personas inevitably converge. When not working, he’s mentoring his step son to win at swimming. The boy’s reluctance to comply frustrates Radu to the point of verbal and physical aggression. He’s insistent for the boy to apply his winning strategies – so much so, that he forcefully squeezes his hand in a demonstrative swimming technique. When not a father, Radu’s waiting for his big professional break. He works for a reputable French TV news agency as their Romanian fixer. He facilitates access to potentially sensational events through his ability to speak both Romanian and French. The promise of a news piece on a child prostitute, Anca, repatriated from France to Romania, sends Radu on a road trip to the North of the country together with the French journalist Axel (Mehdu Nebbou) and his cameraman Serge (Nicolas Wanczycki). The journey exposes them as hardened professionals whose contact with real life events is mediated and buffered by the camera. A visit to the girl’s mother, whose poverty and lack of options account for her visible vulnerability, matters only because of its sensationalist news value.
As the journey progresses, a network of contacts comes into play; they are the forces in charge of Anca. Their contradictory views on the best thing to do for her blur the dividing line between right and wrong and imply that the abuse is far from over. The nun in charge of the shelter where the girl is temporarily staying is resistant to press access, especially to male journalists, because of Anca’s recent trauma. The local policeman sides with the group of journalists, recognizing the reportage’s potential to increase awareness and therefore to protect future victims. Others are just doing favours to advance their personal interests. In the end, Radu secures the interview for the French journalists – with destabilising consequences. Accidentally hitting Anca, he’s shaken out of his everyday anaesthesia and has to reassesses the relationship with his step son.
The Fixer’s strength is to extrapolate: the extreme violence of prostitution isn’t an isolated occurrence but a symptom of an ill society (suggested by the encounter with a band of teenage thugs) which in turn’s a result of everyday problems overlooked. This all-pervading interconnectedness links Radu’s accidental act of violence against Anca to his earlier grappling of his son’s hand.
Throughout the movie, the audience shares a vantage point with the main protagonist. We, too, gain access to the underage victim and inevitably join in the moral debate. It’s a poignant reversal that leaves us questioning our own engagement with violence, with passively consumed news or a tense family dynamic as its overlooked routine forms.
The Fixer’s built from a simple recipe with complex ingredients. Tudor Aaron Istodor superbly runs the show, delivering a profoundly nuanced encounter between his role as a father and the demands of his job. By zooming in on the convergence of the social and the private, the movie raises bigger questions about the media that outgrow the local, Romanian setting – a transformative experience not to be missed!