Radu Jude’s „Scarred Hearts”: Engaging with Romanian literature, historical anti-Semitism and the genre of the period film A text by Veronica Lazăr and Andrei Gorzo


The relation between the film and the literary text

In its opening credits, Radu Jude’s beautiful and stimulating Scarred Hearts describes itself as a film “freely adapted from Max Blecher’s literary works”. It is worth trying to establish more precisely what kind of adaptation we are dealing with. One thing about the film that should be immediately striking to Blecher readers is that writer-director Jude doesn’t make the slightest attempt to filter his presentation or staging of the narrative events through the subjectivity of the main character: in other words, he doesn’t do anything to construct a cinematic equivalent for the “exacerbated perceptions” (to quote the literary critic Dinu Pillat), “the out-of-the-ordinary sensorial acuity” (literary critic Adrian Marino), much remarked upon in Blecher criticism.

One example should suffice: the scene in which young Emanuel, a sufferer from bone tuberculosis, is subjected for the first time by the doctor to a puncture. In M. Blecher’s Scarred Hearts (a novel published in 1937), the narration is in the third person, but at the same time it is tightly wrapped around Emanuel’s subjectivity. Here is a passage:

“Around him he saw his wardrobe, the books and the table, the old familiar things, the well-known things, but now they came unstuck, indecipherable in their murky lucidity, like the chaotic words shouted by an unknown voice in a throng of people crowding out an assembly hall.

‘Anaesthetic,’ said the doctor laconically.

The only thing Emanuel could see was the assistant approaching the bed with a large glass tube. The doctor covered Emanuel’s face with his shirt and told the concierge to take hold of his hands. The big test-tube gave a sudden hiss and Emanuel felt, in a place just above the abscess, an ice-cold gush of liquid on his skin that stiffened the flesh around it.

A metallic box opened and closed.

‘Needle,’ said the doctor, as the assistant approached once more.

‘The needle… Now he’s going to stab me with the needle…’ thought Emanuel. Each second throbbed terribly in his temples.


He opened his eyes a crack and through part of the shirt he spied the assistant pumping something into a bottle; he couldn’t make out anything else.


The concierge lifted the shirt off his eyes. The doctor was swabbing ether onto a little spot that bled a little. The bottle on the table was full of thick yellowish liquid.

‘What’s that?’ Emanuel asked, worn out of the strain and agitation.

‘Pus, my friend! Pus!’ replied the doctor with his usual joviality.”[i]

This passage could very easily be turned into a cinematic découpage (i.e., the shot-by-shot breakdown of a film sequence). Basically, Blecher has already done the job – descriptions of camera angles, descriptions of sounds etc. – complete with suggestions for small “special effects”, for expressionist distortions of visual and aural reality (the surrounding objects coming unstuck “in their murky lucidity”, the throb in the temples), a reality which Emanuel, in his pained and troubled state, is perceiving distortedly.

But a lot of the Romanian cinema which emerged after the year 2000, out of the example set by director Cristi Puiu with his 2001 Stuff and Dough and especially with his 2005 The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu (Radu Jude worked as an assistant director on the latter), is a resolutely anti-expressionist cinema: a cinema which refuses to subjectivize (in ways like those described above) the events it shows, favoring instead a clinical, external presentation. Jude’s film of Blecher’s Scarred Hearts is no exception. It is a film constructed of fixed shots, mostly long takes, all of them objective views – none of them represents Emanuel’s (or another character’s) optical point of view.

For the full text click HERE.