CLUJ 2006 : T.I.F.F. dispatches by S.Seacroft : part 2



reviewed below : Marilena de la P7 [9/10], The Way I Spent the End of the World [8/10], The Fever [4/10], Tideland [2/10 – walkout], A Roof Over One's Head [7/10].

previous reviews can be found on page one including Megacities [8/10], The District [9/10], and Taxidermia [9/10]; while page three includes 12:08 East of Bucharest [8/10] and Working Man's Death [7/10]

    9 June 2006
   After my first long sleep of the festival I woke late, pausing to breakfast on merely three of the ten variations of cooked meat available, and even giving the custard pastries a miss. In my haste I managed to go to the wrong cinema for the 10 o'clock film, and found myself watching something which would not normally have been on my priorities list: a programme of Romanian shorts. I guess a Transilvanian angel must have been directing me, because I found myself watching one of the best films I've seen here so far.
  Marilena de la P7
  Romania 2006 : Cristian NEMESCU : 45 mins : 9/10
  Selected for the Semaine Critique at Cannes, the long short Marilena is an utter gem. In a very downtrodden area of Bucharest, the boys like to spend their evenings on a certain rooftop, where an amiable uncle grows tomatoes and plays ping-pong with his mates. There they lean over the edge and watch the prostitutes at their picking up station. 13-year-old Andrei falls seriously in love with Marilena, and makes various attempts to gain her favours, including driving his father's trolleybus to prove he's grown up enough.
   Young lads falling in love with tarts with hearts can be terribly hackneyed and cute, but that's not the case here. Only 45 minutes long, it contains many pleasures, none of them sentimental. It's a beautifully filmed, loving depiction of a poor neighbourhood, in parts almost like a documentary. It's a painful look at impoverished, trapped spiritual lives. Nemescu crafts a magical realist take, via dreams, of pre-adolescent desire. And it's also very funny and very bleak. After yesterday's exercise in the over-long, here's a perfect example of economy equalling creativity.
  The rest of the programme:
  The Fear of Mr G (Frica Domnului, ?15 mins) is a modern take on Dostoevsky's The Double, an effective grainy black and white Kafkaesque nightmare about an office worker's crumble into madness.
  Nick's Place (La Nic, 13 mins) is a slow-burning, mellow piece about a girl going back to find her mother's ex lover.
  Love Close Up (?18 mins) shows the odd relationship between a visiting photographer and a would-be suicide whom she photographs.
  The Way I Spent the End of the World
  Cum mi-am petrecut sfarsitul lumii
  Romania 2006 : Catalin MITULESCU : 110 mins (approx) : 8/10
   Fun and games at this second showing of the film at the smallish Victoria Cinema. Far too many people had tickets, we were standing or chasing chairs to sit in the balcony area, girls were on boys' knees, couples were sharing seats… I was lucky to get a chair, or maybe not, as it meant I had to watch the film through the metalwork of the balcony. Worse things happen at Cannes, someone assured me. Just as we thought we were all set, the arrival of an Eminent Critic meant a great reshuffling and doubling up along the rows. But it was all very worth waiting for.
  It tells the story of the last few months of Ceausescu's rule, seen through the lives of one family and their neighbours in a fairly poor district on the rural edges of Bucharest. There's lots of humour, with Dad doing Ceausescu imitations, 7-year-old Lalalilu and his mates getting up to mischief at school, and the whole neighbourhood gathering of an evening to pretend, with sound effects, that they're on a coach leaving the country (a magical sequence.)
  Trouble starts for daughter Eva when her boyfriend accidentally breaks a bust of Ceausescu at school, which she takes the blame for, and is expelled to a 'technical school', where she takes up with Andrei, a dissident's son, and plans to escape by swimming the Danube in home-made lifejackets. Meanwhile Lililalu is selected to sing for the great leader on a particularly momentous day, and plans his own act of dissidence on the man responsible for all their troubles.  
  The film is great at showing the harshness of life, but also the strong relationships and philosophical humour that got people through. With its combination of wry satire and deadly hardship, it brought to mind the sixties Czech comedies of directors like Jiri Menzel, but with that extra dimension of political actuality. More than 20 people died in Cluj just 5 minutes away from the cinema during the subsequent troubles, so it was real privilege to watch this among people to whom it meant so much, and the reaction at Ceausescu's downfal - cheering, whistling, clapping - was very moving.
  The Fever
  UK/USA 2004 : Carlo Gabriel NERO : 83 mins : 4/10
  Vanessa Redgrave is guest of honour here, receiving a special Lifetime Achievement Award, and has been a gracious and self-deprecating presence at several screenings. What a shame, then, about this film, which stars her and was made by her son. The story of a middle-aged English woman who wakes up in an anonymous hotel room in a strange, eastern European town… sounding horribly familiar, but no …this one's in a fever, physical and spiritual, and, slumped in the bathroom, reviews the course of her life.
  Considering the thing I most hate in a film is falseness and heartlessness,  I really don't want to be harsh on this, it is totally sincere and well-intentioned.  And let me say I admire Vanessa's life in politics and human rights activism very much.  But, oh dear, how simplistic, humourless, and above all tedious it is. More like a party political broadcast than a real film, it of necessity takes itself so seriously – for example, in an early scene, the heroine finds a mysterious parcel on her doorstep – it's a hefty red book with Karl Marx in big letters on the front, and so we next see her sitting in bed taking in the doctrine and coming to terms with e.g. the fetishism of consumption (I didn't think she got it quite right, either). Was I wrong to smile?
   Michael Moore makes a surprise appearance (convincingly) as a right-on American journalist. Angelina Jolie (less so) as an oppressed dissident. I hated watching it, it was so depressing to see such good ideas and intentions looking so naive. If only the troubles of the world were as simple.  Worst of all it is a dull film visually – apart from the scenes amongst the woman's appalling friends, and the forays into troubled 'good' and 'bad' countries, it consists mostly of the talking head of Vanessa – it certainly is one of the most watchable faces I can think of, but together with her slow delivery, as if for non-English speakers  or those of dim wit, and lugubrious unchanging music directing one to feel sorrowful, it's terribly soporific.
  If this film actually changes some minds, makes people look into their lives as part of the world as a whole, as Vanessa hopes, then it will be worthwhile, whatever cynics like me say about it. But I do fear for it.

  UK/Canada 2005 : Terry GILLIAM : 122 mins (approx) : 2/10 (walkout)
  After one disappointment from an actor I admire, I hastened along hopefully to see Jeff Bridges in the midnight showing of Tideland. They say it's better to travel hopefully than arrive, and I sure wish I'd never arrived at this one.  I have previously thought no film can be totally bad with Mr Bridges in it, but tonight I was proved wrong. Here he's a sour, destructive Lebowski figure who unfortunately comes out like a bad homage to legendary cowboy sidekick Gabby Hayes. It's all extremely "Gilliamesque," with everything that entails, gorgeous camera work and sumptuous sets, but so mannered and exaggerated that the whole thing is totally unwatchable. I felt terribly sorry for Jodelle Ferland in the awfully difficult role of Jeliza Rose, the young daughter of Bridges' drugged and burnt out rock star.
   She's called on to be dreadfully arch and her constant monologue spoken to her imaginary companions, the broken off heads of Barbie dolls, assuming voices for them, is gratingly irritating, as is the truly horrible drifting off into melodramatic set pieces in front of the mirror.  What on earth is going on? Well, all too obvious clues are dropped that she is actually an Alice in Wonderland de nos jours, there's even a talking squirrel…But to what end? Do we need this? I don't know when I was last so almost physically irritated by a film.My heart ached and a drowsy numbness filled my sense, I gave it half an hour and then I just couldn't take any more. Nothing still to come could have redeemed it – maybe for the diehard Gilliam fan it is watchable, not for anyone else.

  10 June
  A funny day, this – although there's a full programme of films tomorrow, this is the final official day of the festival culminating in the big gala awards ceremony tonight, and there is a less full programme for the rest of the day. What's more it's England's first game in the world cup, so I intend to watch only two films and experience Cluj life a bit.
   Pity it's raining, making it like a wet saturday morning anywhere in europe with bedraggled families trailing round the shops, traffic splashing pedestrians, and coffee shops full and steaming. Today I manage to find the ultimate Romanian meal for lunch – ciorba, a sour soup made in this case with green beans, followed by a paprika-lashed pork stew with mamaliga – unappetisingly translated in some phrase books as 'maize mush', actually a kind of polenta, though less thick and smooth than the Italian kind – it's very pleasant, slightly granular like the semolina pud we used to suffer in the old days for school dinners, and a brilliant accompaniment to a highly flavoured stew . It's relevant to this report because mamaliga is actualy what the two yellow cakes with handprints on on the TIFF poster are. I have a walk up to the 'citadella' too, a hill right by the town with a posh hotel on top, from which you can look down on the various architectural styles of Cluj, from gorgeous Gothic to baroque to communist brutalism. Men are fishing in the very brown, very swollen river beneath it, and a procession of adolescents making their way up to the wood covered hill, no doubt with a bit of Saturday aftrnoon delight in mind.
  A Roof over One's Head 
  Un acoperis deasupra capului
  Romania 2006 : Adrian POPOVICI : 110 mins (approx) : 7/10
   When the asylums decide to discharge all patients suffering merely from neurosis or depression in a cost cutting exercise, odd couple Mona, a middle class suicide survivor and down to earth Cati have nowhere to go, and decide to try living in Mona's grandparent's house in the Danube delta. It's Romania's equivalent of the badlands, peopled by oddballs, drunks, wife-beaters, an eccentric priest and a crazy old man who sleeps in a coffin. What's more the house has no roof. The film move from comedy to drama and back effortlessly, culminating in a Thelma & Louise type exhilarating ending. It maybe tries to take on more themes than it can manage (for example wife beating is introduced but scarcely fully integrated  as a plot constituent), and it's (here she goes again) a little too long, particularly over the episodes of drunkenness, but entertaining enough and with great performances from the two leading actresses Mara Nicolescu and Gabriela Butuc.

  Gala night, 10 June 2006
  The big prizes (Best Picture, Best Romanian Picture, Public Vote) all went to A fost sau n-a fost (12:08 East of Bucharest.) Gyorgi Palfy got Best Director for Taxidermia, Best Short was Marilena, Fipresci Jury Prize went to 13/Tzameti. What a night it was in the belle epoque National Theatre, like a small version of La Scala – impassioned speech from Vanessa Redgrave, in receipt of her Lifetime Acheivement award, an impish Udo Kier with the lively audience in the palm of his hand, and eminent Romanian actor Stefan Iordache kneeling in gratitude to receive his special award. Afterwards the stage was taken by Ciocirlia Brass Band, 'the fastest brass band in the world,' playing heady gypsy music like you've never heard it before, which soon had them dancing in the aisles and boxes, culminating in Tony Gatlif, director of closing film Transilvania, leading a string of folk (a mixture of the keen and the sheepish) up onto the stage in wild tzingano dancing. It couldn't happen at Cannes. Afterwards drinks, food, and the pounding Diesel Club were a fitting end to the "official" part of the Festival (which continues for one semi-unofficial day tomorrow).

further Cluj coverage : part one … part three