Constandin is a boor and a bigot, but so's everyone else in this benighted land. In one grimly hilarious scene he encounters a rural clergyman who launches into a long list of ethnic stereotypes stretching from England ("They think a lot") to the Middle East. Human life has little value and "crows" have less. But on the return trip, especially when Constandin gets to relax (and get laid) at a tavern, he starts to warm to Carfin a little. He's still a ruthless, mostly heartless person, as we see when he sells a "crow" boy in a festive market town -- complete with a proto-Ferris wheel -- but he's not entirely heartless, nor is he incapable of treating a "crow" somewhat like a human being. The long tavern sequence is a breather for the audience, too, and it's a relief to see these people enjoying life a little. Even if it seems cruel to have Carfin try to get a coin off the top of a lit candle with his teeth, the spirit of play in the scene encompasses everyone in momentarily humane camaraderie.
Finally Constandin delivers Carfin to the boyar Iordache (Alexandru Dabija). By now, we know that Carfin bolted because his affair with Iordache's wife had been found out. The boyar, a virtual Dracula in his moustache and archaic costume, is determined to personally, publicly castrate Iordache to teach his wife and everyone else a lesson, but Constandin, of all people, pleads for mercy. He only gets threatened for his trouble, while Iordache's poor wife gets Carfin's brutally severed balls rubbed in her face. Jude happily skips graphic detail in this scene, but Carfin's screams tell the story as eloquently as any image might. The moral seems to be that cruelty flows from the top in this feudal culture, and the man on top is tops in cruelty.
Aferim! is a modest masterpiece of juxtaposition, using some of the most lavish monochrome cinematography I've ever seen to illustrate the sordid poverty of old Romania. Some scenes have an almost painterly quality, and others made me think of the Russian Ilya Repin's paintings of rough peasantry come to life, only greyscaled. You could imagine the film as a photograph of the age it portrays, while color might only undermine its illusion of authenticity, which extends to the art direction and the performances. The whole project is a satiric rebuke to nostalgia for some endangered authentic national culture, shown here to have been utterly squalid not so long ago. It's to the Romanians' credit that they haven't taken the film as an insult, but have honored it instead.