Italian Lawmaker Moves To Block Romanian Film

Italian Lawmaker Moves to Block Romanian Film

Published: September 11, 2009
Filed at 10:24 a.m. ET

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A movie about a Romanian immigrant who dreams of finding a better life in Italy has caused an uproar even before it hits the screens.

''Francesca'' may not even reach Italian movie theaters, because lawmaker Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of dictator Benito Mussolini, has filed a legal motion to ban the film, in which she is called ''a whore'' in one scene.

Verona Mayor Flavio Tosi says he filed a criminal complaint against Romanian filmmaker Bobby Paunescu because he is portrayed in a ''vulgar'' way in the film. A court ruling is expected before the end of October when the film is due for release. So far, Paunescu says he has no plans to cut any of the scenes.

Paunescu, who grew up in Italy, said Friday he hoped the film would help improve Romanian-Italian ties. Relations soured after a recent crime wave in Italy that has been blamed on Romanian immigrants.

The idea for ''Francesca'' came after a Romanian immigrant, Nicolae Mailat, who was living in a Gypsy camp, robbed and killed the wife of an Italian naval commander in 2007, a case that shocked Italians and Romanians and marked a decline in relations. Mailat was sentenced to 29 years in prison.

''I feel very ashamed of what happened,'' Paunescu said in an interview from his Bucharest lakeside offices. ''I felt like doing something but I didn't know what.''

The movie, which marks Paunescu's writing debut, is co-produced by Romanian filmmaker Cristi Puiu, whose ''The Death of Mr. Lazarescu'' won ''Un Certain Regard'' honors in 2005. The movie is in Romanian, with subtitles in English in one version, and another in Italian, for foreign audiences.

''Francesca'' follows the current trend in Romanian movie making of in-your-face realism.

''I tried to do something pretty honest with the situation we have today,'' Paunescu said. The film is much more critical of Romania, featuring a loan shark and corruption between a city hall clerk and the boyfriend of the main character played by actress Monica Birladeanu, Paunescu's longtime girlfriend.

Of the remarks that have offended Mussolini and Tosi, Paunescu says, ''I would invite them to see the movie.

''I heard these kind of comments on the streets, the buses and the subway. Some people dream of emigrating to Italy, it's their promised land. But others make aggressive comments'' about some politicians, he said.

About 600,000 Romanians live in Italy, according to official estimates, but the true number is believed to be more than 1 million. Many moved to Italy after Romania joined the EU in 2007.

When the film premiered last week at the Venice Film Festival it was later scheduled to be screened in two Venetian theaters, but Italian distributor Fandango stopped that after Mussolini's complaint.

Criticism of the film has also touched a nerve in Romania where people are sensitive to the notion of censorship, 20 years after former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was toppled and executed. In Ceausescu's time, every article, every play, every work of fiction that was published had to pass a censor.

Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc argued ''Francesca'' should be screened the way it is, saying the content was ''a right to free speech.'' He said he would raise the issue with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi when he makes an official visit next week to Rome.

Paunescu says he was ''puzzled'' by the strong reaction.

''As a director this was very bad news. It leaves me with a bad feeling,'' he said. ''It is unbelievable something like this can happen.''


Associated Press writer Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.