A caustic picture of the past, all faux-nostalgic artifice stripped away by screenwriters Radu Jude and Florin Lazarescu's dedication to honesty and accuracy. Hard times in Aferim!, neither blankly nor romantically so, merely times which one muddles through, making the most as much one can. No-one today can truly say just how honest and accurate Jude is in his modest recreation, but the mask never slips, and a sense of simplicity and truthfulness sings through every moment and every scene. Aferim! is a typically non-flashy Romanian production, its principal virtue being its refusal to draw unnecessary attention to itself. Egregious prejudices are laid bare, acts of extraordinary cruelty are committed, and Jude's tightly-controlled yet resolutely objective touch never sensationalises. It's unsettling rather than shocking, an internal feeling of unease that is eventually revealed to be objectivity itself; Aferim! courts sympathy as much as disdain for the same characters, a curious conflict engendered by Jude's incisive inquiry into the effects of prejudice. 1826 Romania is a country beset by threats on all sides, its inhabitants retreating into senseless, dogmatic self-identification and outward objectification; their attitudes are loathsome, though only until tested. Aferim! slowly builds to a sequence where basic humanity and sympathy swiftly expunge all suggestion of enmity between oppressed peoples, and squares the blame solely on abusive authority. For all that it may cause discomfort, inescapably so, this is a distinctly humanistic film, and a singularly perceptive one too.