Romanian film review – Bucharest by Night: Taximetriști
Bogdan Theodor Olteanu’s first two films, Several Conversations About a Very Tall Girl and Mia Misses Her Revenge were some of the most original releases of the past years. ‘Fresh’ is such a cliché adjective, but in this case, flatteringly fitting.
His third feature, Taximetriști (Taxi Drivers or Cabbies), a comedy about a particularly adventurous night for two Bucharest cabbies, premiered a week ago and is currently touring the country’s cinemas. You should see it because if there is something that Olteanu doesn't do is bore.
The movie is based on the eponymous play he wrote together with Adrian Nicolae, and they teamed up again for the screen version. Rolando Matsangos and Alexandru Ion play Liviu and Lică, the taxi-driving duo of the title, one quiet and shy, the other loud and foul-mothed. And they are about to have one hell of a night shift. Liviu cannot ignore some of the problems in his marriage anymore, and Lică, among the colourful clients he drives around, gets cocky with the wrong person.
If you have ever been in a taxi in Romania, and especially Bucharest, you know some drivers love to chat about anything: politics, religion, marriage, health, the city, any type of advice. And I don’t mean Uber or Bolt, I mean old-fashion taxis. The policy of the calm, posh Uber ride is hilariously mocked by Lică, but the play was written when Uber launched, and the threat of competition (but also lure of the new business model) is obvious in the movie. Depending on your engagement, the talk can be annoying or great, but one thing if for sure: nobody remembers the silent rides. There is a lot of unintentional humour here, but also a surprisingly personal aspect of people sharing their lives for a few minutes. And what Taximetriști does very well is show the people behind the chatter, the ones behind the wheel, and the ones in the backseat. A taxi is where everyone in a disconnected capital gets thrown together, and the movie is kind towards all.
Most of Taximetriști consists of conversations in the car, and this is where the agitated Lică has some of the most hilarious (and cringy) dialogue, because he has an opinion on everything, from homosexuality (not the highest) to his customers' music (also low) or earning money (his take-down of the group of DJs/ influencers is by far the funniest bit). The film is light and giggly, there is not much subtlety or depth, but the scenes between Liviu and his wife are very affecting, and there is one moment where they also involve Lică, turning him into more than a jokester. His moving scene come at the end of the film, when he is driving a young man from one party to the next and his need for connection, his vulnerability, is achingly obvious. It made me think there could be much more to the story, but clearly this is not the film’s purpose, it wants to stay mostly light and frothy. And why not, after all? Taximetriști is funny, engaging, carried by a great cast.
As Olteanu candidly says in a recent interview, the choice was to make it accessible for a larger audience and thus recover some of the money spent on his previous, self-financed films, before he can alternate with another festival film next. Not that the “right framing” couldn’t make this one fit for fest selection, but that might lead to problems with the cinema release. It is very tricky to hit the sweet spot between audience and critical appreciation, where audience films are being considered ‘easy’ and critically successful ones too ‘artsy’ to distribute successfully in theatres. The problem of money allocated to filmmaking films is another big point.
The whole interview with him and Adrian Nicolae is generally great, honest and funny. It is the best making-of, a precise, condensed talk on (independent) filmmaking, writing, character development, and Bucharest. I wish them alt the audience in the world.
By Ioana Moldovan, columnist, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo: still from Taximetriști provided by the film‘s PR team)