In last week's column I mentioned two very talented filmmakers to whom the short film festival NexT is paying homage, director Cristian Nemescu and sound editor Andrei Toncu. The two worked together on great short films before moving on to their first joint feature, the comedy California Dreamin' (Nesfârșit)/California Dreamin' (Endless). Tragically, the duo never got to enjoy their completed work since they both died in a car accident in the summer of 2006 while still in the process of post-production. The picture was subsequently finalized by simply leaving most of the finished material in and this is how the film got its epic running time of 150 minutes. It may be a bit long at times but this is a very well-written, funny and clever take on cultural differences and Romanian peculiarities.
Set in 1999, when the war in Yugoslavia was still raging, the pic centers on a group of American soldiers traveling with NATO military equipment through Romania to Kosovo. They find themselves stuck in a dusty village where the station chief and local corrupt businessman is set on giving them a hard time by insisting on a permit to cross the Romanian territory. Which they don't have of course, because the agreement had only been done verbally. The mayor however is exhilarated by the American 'visit' and is going out of his way to make them feel welcome by showing them how Romanians have a good time.
This involves spontaneous village feasts, plenty of food and definitely too much alcohol. Romance is also added to the mix when the mayor's daughter falls in love with one of the soldiers. First problem: she doesn't speak English and asks her high-school colleague to help her with the translation. Second problem: the aforementioned colleague has a crush on her. Things get more serious towards the end when the city confronts the local baron and this is where the social comedy turns into serious drama. I was a bit taken aback by the sudden change of tone and my guess is that this is due to the subsequent editing, but then again the ending is lighter again and more in tune with the film's milder first part.
The film alludes with great irony to a Romanian fantasy of being saved by the Americans. The saying “the Americans are coming” originated in the years after the Second World War as a hope of being freed from the Russians and the expression can also be used humorously to refer to the very unlikely hope that somebody else will magically solve an entire country's problems.
A good script, great comic timing, and a genuine love for its characters make California Dreamin' a pleasure to watch. The acting is just as good, especially the wonderful Ion Sapdaru as the clumsy mayor, not to mention action star Armand Assante, who is having a great time as the hard-boiled leader of the NATO team. This is one brilliant casting idea.
Hilarious, touching, and insightful: this is simply one of the best features in recent Romanian cinema. But most of all it is a lovely film which stands in memory of two lovely people.
The ever-reliable Cărturești stores and their online shop have the film on DVD and the extensive trailer, which is an amusing little movie in itself, is below.
By Ioana Moldovan, Columnist, [email protected]