THE LATEST WAVE: NEW ROMANIAN CINEMA at Cinematheque Ontario’s Jackman Hall (Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas West), from Friday (April 11) to May 2. 416-968-FILM. See listings. Rating: NNNNN
Here is something you should know about the new Romanian cinema: things do not go well in it. Even the comedies tend to end with someone getting stabbed in the neck.
Still, that’s no reason not to wander down to Jackman Hall for Cinematheque Ontario’s comprehensive program of recent Romanian works. In fact, I’d suggest you jump at the rare opportunity to see them on a big screen. With the exception of Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days (May 1, 7 pm; Rating: NNNNN), most of these films have gone, or will go, directly to DVD in Canada.
Ion Fiscuteanu and The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu pulse with life.
I guess I can understand the lack of commercial interest. As engrossing and powerful as they are, movies like 4, 3, 2 and Cristi Puiu’s The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu (April 20, 3:15 pm; Rating: NNNNN) aren’t exactly crowd-pleasers.
When Mr. Lazarescu first appeared on the festival circuit, it was hailed as a triumph of cinema at its bleakest and most despairing. Fair enough: the movie’s about an ailing old alcoholic who’s shoved through a crumbling health care system after collapsing at home.
This is, by any measure, a great movie. But it’s also a hell of a downer; I’m amazed how quickly people’s eyes glaze over when they hear “It’s this two-and-a-half-hour exploration of a corrupt and apathetic nation rendered down to the experience of a dying man…. ”
A much easier sell is a film like The Way I Spent The End Of The World (April 17, 7 pm; Rating: NNNN), which wraps its biting social satire in a more appealing package. Catalin Mitulescu’s film follows a teenage girl (Dorotheea Petre) and her much younger brother (Timotei Duma), who negotiate Ceausescu’s Romania with a certain lightness – even when they’re devoting their energy to fleeing the country or plotting the dictator’s assassination.
California Dreamin’ (Endless) (Sunday, April 13, 2:45 pm; Rating: NNN) comes with its own tragic backstory; director Cristian Nemescu and sound editor Andrei Toncu were killed in a car crash while the film was in post-production.
The version we see is what they’d assembled before they died, and it’s clearly a work in progress. A number of scenes go on far longer than necessary, particularly a sequence set at a town festival that seems to think it’s the opening act of The Deer Hunter. Certain subplots and characters seem destined for the cutting-room floor.
But the narrative, which revolves around a prideful gangster (Razvan Vasilescu) who forces a NATO military train to stop in his tiny village because no one sent him any clearance papers, is novel and sharply satirical, and Armand Assante, as the American in command of the transport, reminds us that he’s still an actor to be reckoned with when he wants to be.