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Nae lives in a small village in East Rumania. A telegram arrives telling him 
that his long lost uncle Luca has died.

The wire was sent by Luca’s executer
 asking Nae and his mother to go to France to make arrangements.
One of the deceased’s last wishes was to be buried in the cemetery of his home town in Sulina, Rumania, located on the coast of the Black Sea, on the other side of the continent.

When the two Rumanians get to the deceased’s house on the Atlantic coast, they meet a shaman, Ata, who was Luca’s best friend. Ata tells them that Luca’s fortune was lost and the only thing left is an unusual coffin. Luca’s soul takes advantage of their return trip to Rumania, unbeknownst 
to them.

The Rumanian tradition requires the soul to retrace its life’s steps during the forty days of mourning. Luca’s soul chooses to inhabit Nae in order to return to its last resting place. The procession of these “three” Rumanians is guided by their Guardian Angel through the Celestial Customs which lead to the Final Judgement.


Europolis, movie clips.

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According to Rumanian folklore, the deceased’s soul finds no peace until their final wishes have been accomplished. Unless this happens the dead person will come back as a ghost “strigoï”, or even as a vampire “moroï”! Nae and his mother thus have the responsibility of the hazardous mission which is to accompany Luca to his last resting place in his hometown.

During this voyage, the soul becomes unruly. It shows itself in a mirror, makes its voice heard, creates short circuits… It borrows the living bodies of an old shaman, a young blind clairvoyant… and even Nae himself. The soul goes through a series of “celestial border controls”, which are necessary steps to get access to eternal rest in the hereafter. And it isn’t necessarily benevolent to the members of its family…

“We have always been dying and yet death has not lost any of its freshness.”
E.M. CIORAN “Anathemas and Admirations”


“What is a lost soul? It is one that has turned from its true path and is groping in the darkness of remembered ways”
Malcolm Lowry – Under the Volcano.

It is said that if earthly life is but a transition, the life that follows is eternal. That is why – according to Rumanian tradition – the soul of the deceased must be prepared and helped in its separation from this world and for the journey full of ordeals that awaits it.

The founding beliefs of Rumanian funereal traditions mingle pagan remnants with the dogma of the Orthodox Church in a harmonious synthesis built upon reciprocal tolerance.

According to the church:
during the first three days, the soul wanders around its home and visits its loved ones, then the places it visited during its lifetime. On the third day it rises to adore its Creator who shows it Heaven.
from the 3rd to the 9th day, the soul discovers the Places of the Saints and admires their celestial beauty. At the end of this period, it is once more brought before God to repeat its prayers.
then, until the 40th day, the soul visits Hell, where it witnesses with dread the throes of the souls that are confined there. On the 40th day it presents itself once more before God for its earthly life to be judged and a place attributed for eternity

The Rumanians generally agree that after death, the soul does not immediately abandon the body. This happens progressively and is accomplished only once the soul has reconsidered, with a certain detachment, its earthly life and the just value of its deeds. Thus are explained the journeys of the soul to all the places that marked its life.

Aided by its loved ones and guided by its Guardian Angel, the soul little by little becomes aware of the path that it must still accomplish. At first it is hungry and thirsty. Its loved ones therefore leave it something to eat and drink and also light candles to prevent it from getting lost. A piece of white cloth where it can rest from time to time is hung up next to the doorway into the death chamber. It is as a precaution that the family covers the mirrors, as it is through these that the soul attempts to return to its family circle.

The soul grieves during its tormented journey, but it is guided by its Guardian Angel and faithfully aided by the ritual cares of its loved ones.
According to the Church, on the 40th day, the soul is weighed and God grants it the eternal place it deserves. But according to tradition, it is the soul itself which finds its place for eternity, in Heaven or in Hell.

In this way the journey of the soul through the places where it lived in order to remember and revaluate its past life becomes meaningful: the primary judge of the soul turns out to be itself.

A difficult initiatory step is going through the Celestial Customs (from the 9th to the 40th day) when the confrontation between good and evil reveals all its dramatic extent.

Once the soul has settled in the afterlife until the end of time, the life it has left on earth may once more find its balance; the worlds are once more clearly separated.
If, by misfortune, the soul is poorly aided by the rituals of its loved ones, or if, due to sins that have not been expiated, the soul strays from its final target and changes into a vampire, (strigoi or moroi). With no place in the afterlife, but departed from the world of the living, neither real body, nor light soul, the vampire wanders without rest between both worlds. It feeds off the vital energy of its loved ones that it tries by all means to capture and to draw to its side.


“The Devil is merely the idleness of God”. Nietzsche – Ecce homo

In Rumanian tradition, the journey of the deceased’s soul to the Heavens marks a subtle symmetry with the biblical story of the fall of Lucifer and his angels (after having fallen for 40 days, they arrive on earth and are transformed into demons).
Popular mythology also maintains the biblical principle of duality in angels in its own interpretation:
According to some, an angel and a demon settle on the shoulders of the new-born child when it is born into the world. Each decision man makes throughout his lifetime is subjected to the influence of one or the other of these invisible companions.
Others believe that it only involves a single angel, good or evil depending on the circumstances.


The idea that man is not alone, neither during his earthly transition, nor during the journey of his soul to its deserved place in the afterlife, is widely shared by the Rumanians. The Guardian Angel, it is believed, always stands by man.
Over and above its mission of giving him advice about the choices imposed by the circumstances of life, the Guardian Angel also has the difficult task of guiding his soul during the 40 days, of helping it through each ordeal, particularly during the awesome crossings of the Celestial Customs, to present it, ready at last for the Lord’s Judgment.

The lost souls, that have become strigoi (vampires) by straying from their path towards eternal rest, also lose their Guardian Angels.


Customs: “A place where ships taking shelter from storms are exposed to the fury of the customs.” Ambrose Bierce – The Devil’s Dictionary.

To gain access to the Heavens, the soul must cross the chaotic aerial expanses that swarm with demons. Then is the moment when the soul must face ordeals. Each ordeal is different, but the scenario remains the same: the soul must cross a narrow and fragile bridge, climb a moving ladder or an inaccessible surface or even pass through an area dotted with dreadful dangers. On all sides the demons surround it and try everything to bar the way because, by falling, the soul will reproduce the story of the fall of the angels and will join their ranks, under their dominion.

The demons spare no tricks to seize the soul, that only determination, a pure life and the advice of the Guardian Angel can keep on the right path.

At the end of the ordeal, the soul is weighed (both its good and bad deeds are set upon the scales) and after having symbolically paid the crossing of the Customs, it earns the right to continue on its way.

These Customs number 3, 9, 40 or even 99, depending on the region; the last one carrying the promising name of Puntea Raiului, the Passageway to Heaven, leads directly to the Creator.

Back on earth, the deceased’s loved ones help the soul to pass through the awesome Celestial Customs by placing into the coffin coins and various symbolic objects that will help the deceased to pay the Customs. Ritual songs, prayers, initiatory rites are always present.

The rites, miming the crossing of the Customs, always take place during the funeral procession to the graveyard: stops are made at crossroads, bridges, and near water: wells, springs, lakes… While the orthodox priest prays for the deceased and blesses the place, the loved ones of the departed throw coins into the water. In some regions, the Celestial Customs are symbolically represented by pieces of white cloth barring the road that the funeral procession must pass through.


“Mirrors are the gates through which Death comes and goes.” Jean Cocteau – Orpheus.

Mirror: the meaning of mirrors, beyond their basic function, comes from the ancient belief according to which the image and its model are linked by a magical correspondence: mirrors can consequently trap the soul or the vital force of the man that it reflects; this is why it is recommended in popular traditions to cover the mirrors when someone dies, to avoid trapping the soul in the death chamber and to allow it to pass into the afterlife.” Encyclopaedia of Symbols. Michel Cazenave.

Just after death, the soul experiences difficulties in separating from its body, all the more so that it needs time to understand and accept its new state and to prepare for its journey to come. At first it wanders in its home, then around the home, then further and further away.

If, by misfortune, the soul sees its image in a mirror it can take shelter there, at the risk of permanently losing its way. It will then attempt to seize the souls of its loved ones that are reflected in the mirror. Thus, unhappiness will settle on both sides of the mirror.

That is why tradition requires that, until the burial, one covers the mirrors of the home with a cloth or turn them around to face the walls.

For Rumanians, not looking into a mirror is also a way of showing respect towards the deceased. During the period of mourning, the loved ones of the deceased must not think too much about themselves: taking care of one’s appearance in front of a mirror is particularly frowned upon. This is why men do not shave during the 40 days, the beard being considered a sign of grief and bereavement.

Elena POPA

Rudolf MOCA
Laurentiu BANESCU

Directed & produced by

based on a story by





Diego LOSA
François PETIT


A century and a half before its entry into the European Union, Rumania hosted the first institution of modern Europe: the European Danube Commission.

The Commission, created after the Crimean War in 1856, was a vast international administration and set up in Sulina, a small town in the Danube delta. The fishing port became open to the world. This cosmopolitan, flourishing city benefited from its neutral and “off-shore” status.

The Second World War put an end to this “Little Venice of the Orient”. This port on the Danube, on the edge of the Black Sea, has returned to being a village lost in the middle of nowhere. 

Contact informations.

Cornel Gheorghita

Tel: +40 731 939 287

Email: cornel [AROND]

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