It took me a long time. To come back to Romania. Country I’ve never visited. But in film.
I do not know which Romanian film I saw first. It may have been 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.
It may have been The Way I Spent the End of the World.
You can read my praise for those two perfect films here on my site.
But let me just say that I am honored to finally review what I consider the third perfect Romanian film:
12:08 East of Bucharest.
The Romanian title translates directly as “It was or was not?”
Perhaps a little massaging would render the phrase more like “Was it or wasn’t it?”
And so what is this Hamletesque sentence driving at?
That is the question!
The revolution. The Romanian Revolution.
In a particular town (Vaslui) was there a revolution or wasn’t there?
While this may sound like a rather dry premise, let me assure you that director Corneliu Porumboiu proves himself to be a master on the order of his countrymen Cristian Mungiu and Cătălin Mitulescu.
Porumboiu is helped by the fantastic acting of three stellar performers.
Mircea Andreescu plays the character Emanoil Piscoci. Andreescu’s comic timing as the awkward Mr. Piscoci is one of the defining elements of this film.
Also indispensable is Ion Sapdaru as Professor Manescu. Sapdaru’s desperation and body language also make this film the timeless gem that it is.
Though we may not completely sympathize with his brusque character, Teodor Corban does an admirable job portraying the unifying (and polarizing) Virgil Jderescu.
Finally, I cannot leave out the small-but-pithy contribution of the excellent George Guoqingyun.
[we now interrupt this horribly boring review to bring you the point]
Black humor. Bleak humor. Dark humor.
The town…looks as shitty as my town. My neighborhood.
There aren’t any explosions. No CGI.
No superheroes. In fact, there’s not even a pretty girl with whom to fall in love.
That’s reality right there. Verismo.
As the snow falls on Vaslui I feel the same desperation I feel on a daily basis.
The cracked concrete of the apartment buildings. The sad roofs. From above.
The band is a little out of tune. Desafinado. I love them.
This film isn’t like the oblivion of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. It doesn’t have a blooming flower of hope in its heart like The Way I Spent the End of the World.
But it shares with those films a country and a particular way of looking at the world. Show the bad stuff.
The difference here is, “Show the bad stuff…and then laugh a little.”
It will still make you cry.
No, it’s not a calculated Italian confection.
This is a beautifully sloppy film.
It’s films such as this which make me push on–which make me keep writing. I keep hoping.
Porumboiu…your crappy world gives me hope in my crappy world. Thank you.