Happiest Girl in the World, The (2009)

Radu Jude’s debut feature takes cinematic tedium to mesmerizingly hilarious levels as he follows a young girl who is obliged to shoot for a commercial after winning a car in a lucky draw.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,343

Dir. Radu Jude
2009 | Romania | Drama/Comedy | 99 mins | 1.85:1 | Romanian
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for sexual references and coarse language

Cast: Andreea Bosneag, Vasile Muraru, Violeta Haret-Popa, Serban Pavlu, Andi Vasluianu
Plot: Delia, an unworldly teenager from a small town in rural Romania, strikes it lucky in a competition run by a soft drink company—and wins a car. But when her family brings her to Bucharest to appear in a commercial for the company in question, luck becomes something of a relative term.
Awards: Won C.I.C.A.E. Award – Forum (Berlinale); Won NHK Award (Sundance)
International Sales: Films Boutique

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Family Dynamics; Shooting a Commercial
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

A key work of the early Romanian New Wave, Radu Jude (of Aferim! and Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn fame) made his feature directing debut with The Happiest Girl in the World

The title itself is ironic as Delia, the girl in question, sulks and sulks throughout the film.  She has won a car in a lucky draw, and in the first act, we see her parents driving her to Bucharest to shoot for a commercial as part of obligatory requirements. 

The car may be a symbol of capitalism but also an opportunity for upward mobility for the family.  Delia’s father wants to sell it immediately so that they can invest the cash, fund her education and live comfortably in the years to come, but Delia stubbornly wants to own and drive the car.  To her, it’s a symbol of freedom, hope and ‘getting her way’—in other words, a marker of self-identity. 

“Youth passes quickly and life is disappointing.”

Jude’s filmmaking is best described as ‘street-level’ style, almost documentary-like yet the camera is natural and inquisitive enough to set its gaze on Delia without feeling intrusive or artificially set up. 

The irony, of course, comes when she has to ‘act’ for the camera, endorse a product and be happy.  Jude pokes fun at the production itself, including the unfortunate crew who has to deal with fraying tempers, ridiculous requests, malfunctioning equipment and uncooperative people. 

In between, everyone waits to get ready.  The film plays the waiting game almost in real-time, taking cinematic tedium to mesmerizingly hilarious levels. 

For those who can’t get onto its wavelength, The Happiest Girl in the World will be as boring as hell.  But to me, this is one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a long time—I mean, just look at all those glum faces working their asses off.  It’s miserable yet very pleasurable.

Grade: A-


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