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Romania Education

At just around midnight in the capital of Romania, film producer Ada Solomon got a call that threatened the life of her entire movie. Her docu-drama depicting a reenactment of one of the worst atrocities in Romania’s history was going to be shut down by the town’s vice mayor. And there was nothing she could do to stop it.

“I had, for one hour and a half, in the middle of [Revolution Square], the most horrible discussion I ever had in my life,” Solomon told TheWrap’s Steve Pond at a Q&A on Thursday following a screening of “I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History as Barbarians,” a film about the 1941 mass murder of tens of thousands of Jews on the Eastern Front by Romanian forces.

“Barbarians,” Romania’s entry into the Oscar foreign film race, follows theater director Mariana (Ioana Iacob) as she prepares a reenactment that will hopefully bring awareness to a truth not many Romanians have come to terms with, according to Solomon. Before Romania fought against Germany in World War II, the country worked alongside Germany to advance their ethnic cleansing agenda. Romanians who acknowledge that fact are chastised for being unpatriotic.

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During that fateful night of shooting, Solomon and director Radu Jude immediately presented all their papers and permits stating they were allowed to film in the heart of Bucharest. But it wasn’t the proof that got the vice mayor to bite. In fact, it was a misunderstanding that saved the movie.

“You don’t have to thank me,” the vice mayor told her after letting them resume filming. “If this wasn’t a film about [former Romanian Prime Minister Ion Antonescu], you wouldn’t have the permit”

Except it wasn’t about Antonescu at all. At least not in a good way. In 1946, Antonescu would go on to be charged for war crimes due to his involvement with Nazi Germany and the mass murder of Jews.

“It’s a kind of injustice with the lack of education about this,” Solomon told the audience at the Landmark Theatre. “This is a white page in the history book. The debate has to be there.”

The dissonance between what happened and what Romanians are led to believe has resulted in people in the other countries that have screened the film (“Barbarians” has premiered in France, Belgium and Canada, among others) to relate with the corrective history going on.

“I don’t remember what I’ve learned,” Romanian-born actress Iacob told the audience about learning of the massacre in high school. “Maybe it was one page in the history book. If you weren’t there for the lesson, you wouldn’t have known it.”

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Aside from directing, Jude also penned the script. Solomon said Jude always had someone like Iacob in mind to play the lead role, wanting “a feminine figure to oppose the world of men.”

Mariana is depicted in the film as someone constantly negotiating with men trying to flirt their way into getting what they want. But Mariana always pushes back.

During a lengthy scene between Mariana and a city official, played by actor Alexandru Dabija, for example, Mariana has to fight to keep her theatrical production uncensored while also dodging the official’s attempts to compliment her into submission. The same can be seen with Mariana’s intimate relationship with an older pilot, a married man with whom she’s having an affair. Mariana informs him at one point that she is pregnant with his baby. During one spat, the pilot implores her that it is her duty to abort the baby so he doesn’t get in trouble.

She doesn’t budge.

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Iacob came in for a one-on-one audition with Jude for the role of Mariana. From that moment, Iacob fell in love with the character and the story Jude was trying to tell.

“I read the pages for the casting sessions, and I couldn’t stop,” Iacob said.

After getting everyone on board, the production took 22 days. It was a quick shoot, sure, but not one without its dissenters. Solomon described getting scathing messages from Romanians asking “How dare they” and that they were “bad Romanians.”

But Jude and Solomon always kept going, believing the film would become “a cultural product” that could help people understand why it’s important to acknowledge the event happened.

“We are not politicians. But we are using our tools — the art — to express how we feel about the world around us,” Solomon said.

So does Solomon think the Bucharest vice mayor has seen the film he so abruptly detested on that late night?

“I doubt it,” she joked.

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(Note: This post contains spoilers for “The Nun,” specifically its ending. Read on at your own risk!)

“The Nun” is technically a prequel in the ever-expanding “Conjuring” film universe, telling something of an origin story for Valak, the super-scary demon nun of “The Conjuring 2.” But thanks to various teases, we know Valak is tied a little more deeply into all the movies surrounding “The Conjuring” than it might have seemed before.

The events of “The Nun” take place in 1952 in a Romanian convent that sees some spooky things happen. A miracle-hunting priest, Father Burke (Demián Bichir), and a young nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) are sent to investigate the place. Spoiler alert: Valak’s there, and things get pretty scary.

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We know Valak shows up again in “The Conjuring 2,” and spends quite a while haunting paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) and her husband, Ed (Patrick Wilson). “The Nun” reveals how Valak made her way from Romania all the way to the U.S. to infect Lorraine’s life, and how she came to be embroiled in the haunting in Enfield, England in that movie.

Warning: spoilers beyond!

The end of “The Nun” features a direct tie to the first movie in the “Conjuring”-verse, “The Conjuring.” In that movie, the Warrens give a lecture at Massachusetts Western University, in which they show a video of an exorcism they participated in, and some of the strange effects they witnessed while it was happening. That lecture is attended by Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor), whose family is being haunted, and it convinces her to ask the Warrens for help.

The victim of the demonic possession in the video is a French-Canadian man named Maurice. As “The Nun” makes clear, that Maurice is Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the young man who helped Father Burke and Sister Irene at the Romanian monastery. The end of “The Nun” reveals that Valak managed to possess Frenchie just before Sister Irene sealed the gateway to Hell in the catacombs beneath the monastery — and that allowed the demon to escape its confines out into the world. As the three leave the monastery once and for all, Frenchie reveals his real name.

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“The Nun” features a retcon of the scene from “The Conjuring,” with Bloquet replacing the original actor who played Maurice in the film the Warrens show during the lecture. On the video, Marcel can be seen whispering something to Lorraine, who reacts violently and in fear. That’s the moment, it seems, when Valak infests the Warrens’ lives.

In “The Conjuring 2,” we learn that Lorraine had been feeling the presence of Valak sort of vaguely for a while, but she encountered the demon in a major way during the Amityville case (which really happened, and has been adapted into a bunch of movies, beginning with “The Amityville Horror”) that’s shown at the beginning of the movie. It’s implied that Valak might have been responsible for Ronnie DeFeo Jr. murdering his family in Amityville, and the further hauntings of the Lutz family that the Warrens investigated. When Lorraine encounters Valak, she sees a vision of Ed being impaled.

The Warrens later head to Enfield, England, to investigate another haunting, which Lorraine realizes is also the work of Valak. She manages to save Ed from Valak, who means to kill him (impaling him as in the vision Lorraine saw), and banish the demon back to hell.

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Valak also has a link to the “Annabelle” story, which is a spin-off of the first “Conjuring” movie. In “Annabelle: Creation,” which takes place in 1955, we learn how the doll came to be haunted when a group of orphans and the nun who looks after them move into the home of a dollmaker and his wife. The nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), apparently spent some time at the monastery in Romania where Valak was imprisoned. She has a photo of herself with some of the nuns there — and in the background, steeped in shadow, Valak appears as well.

Though the Annabelle doll is also infested by a demon, which possesses a young girl named Janice (Talitha Bateman) and later murders her adopted parents (which happens at the beginning of “Annabelle”), that demon isn’t Valak. It’s probably a coincidence that Sister Charlotte came into close proximity of two murderous demons who would also be linked to the Warrens. Or, since the “Conjuring” movies often suggest as much, it could be divine intervention, since Charlotte manages to save several of the girls from the creature.

As of “The Conjuring 2,” it seems that Valak is gone, banished back to Hell. But the demon found its way out once before, and since it has so many links to portions of the “Conjuring” film universe, it seems possible that we haven’t seen the last of the demon nun.

“The Nun” is in theaters now.

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