After exploring the blossoming romance between two young Romanian women in his first feature, “Several Conversations About a Very Tall Girl,” Bogdan Theodor Olteanu returns with a charged sophomore effort that looks at the fallout when a young actress splits from the boyfriend who slapped her in a jealous fit.

“Mia Misses Her Revenge” stars Ioana Bugarin as a woman reeling from the act of violence that brought her relationship to a sudden, bitter end. Determined to get even, she decides to make a sex tape as a form of revenge – a plan that proves to be easier said than done. Crippled by indecision and self-doubt, she finds her convictions put to the test by a cast of characters who have their own opinions about how she should respond.

Written and directed by Olteanu, “Mia Misses Her Revenge” won a Jury Special Mention after its 2020 premiere at the Warsaw Film Festival. Pic is produced by Anamaria Antoci and Anda Ionescu for Bucharest-based Tangaj Production.

Olteanu described the fictional Mia as part of the first generation of young Romanian women seeking empowerment and articulating their need for it. “Mia struggles with more than revenge. She is grasping for autonomy in a society which imposes the exact opposite,” he said. The director spoke to Variety during the Transilvania Film Festival about the struggle to stay true to one’s convictions when they clash with real-world events, Romania’s slow embrace of the #MeToo movement, and a generation of Romanian women fighting to be heard.

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What inspired “Mia Misses Her Revenge”?
I think I had in mind a couple of stories happening around me, where I saw people with strong convictions, people who were fighting for their convictions, that were getting in trouble. All of us, we have some values, we have some things we believe in, and when they are just some stated principles, it’s easy. But when theory is clashing with reality, there is an idea of conflict that’s fascinating. It’s very easy to write on a piece of paper what is unacceptable. But this clash between speech and principles stated and the moment when you have to act upon them, it’s not easy.

How does that play out in Mia’s response to her ex?
I’m not saying that the principle should be debatable or negotiable, because it is not. Violence is unacceptable. Period. What I’m saying is it’s complicated, because it’s from the man she loves. The contradiction is that it still is unacceptable, but also there is the love, and they are clashing. It’s very complicated.

The #MeToo movement obviously had a big impact on Hollywood. How is that debate happening in Romania?
In my view, the conversation hasn’t really started. We are like pre-Weinstein in America.

Do you think it’s evolving?
I think it’s going to change. I think it’s going to change as soon as [the younger] generation gets some leverage, this conversation will start developing. Unfortunately, you need to have some victims that speak up for themselves, in order to be their ally and support them – you cannot do it on their behalf. I know stories about harassment, but they are not my stories. I think a #MeToo movement has to start with the victims. There’s no other way.

Throughout the movie, Mia really struggles to get others to see her side of the story; she’s often speaking without being heard. Are we meant to see her as representative of a generation of Romanian women who are finding a voice, and finding a way to demand things that other generations couldn’t?
I think it’s the first generation that’s had some chance to change things. If you are talking just about this artistic environment, actors come from a school where they are taught that the director is God, and you cannot argue or negotiate with the director. So it’s complicated, because then they are going into a work environment where these kinds of ideas exist. It’s very complicated, because you are at the start of your career, you’re getting your first roles, you’re very vulnerable, because you’re easily replaceable. It’s very difficult to stand up for yourself. It’s a big struggle.

You mentioned after the premiere that your actors improvised a lot of the dialogue. Was it your decision from the start to treat your actors as collaborators – to let them shape a movie that is so much about women’s voices?
It’s the same way that I worked with my first movie, which also has a female protagonist. Somehow, during the process, I made a treatment, but then I had to find a way to involve their voices in the script. For me, the idea was to build this wireframe – this is happening, this is the story – but I want to have their voices in it. And their contribution was huge. With Ioana Bugarin, I worked about one year preparing this movie. We made a lot of improvisation exercises. We kept some things, we skipped some things. And then on the shooting days, we worked with improvisation.

Did that process take you places you didn’t expect to go?
It was valuable for both of my features. I think this process showed me that there is something very true in the film. It’s not just my fantasy, it’s not just the product of my imagination. It is the sum of their voices, and their voices are very present in the film. I think this assured me that the issues are real, the approach to the issue is real. I was like the conductor; I had some very fine musicians playing their parts. A conductor for a jazz orchestra. [Laughs.] There are some very great parts where the girls went to places that I couldn’t. And I just recognized, “This is great. This is very truthful. This is very insightful. I never thought about this.”

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