Romanian film review – To die or not to die: Funeralii fericite
To me, Horaţiu Mălăele has always been the Romanian Bill Murray: show me his face and I'll break into a huge grin. Originally a stage actor, his wild success eventually lead him to film and his brilliantly funny deadpan comedy is a delight to watch, both on stage and screen.
But as much as I enjoy his unmistakable presence, his latest film was an endurance test I almost didn't pass. Mălăele (in picture) took up directing, Funeralii fericite - with no official English title yet, but it could be something like Happy Funerals - being his second film. And yes, he did fall into the trap of casting himself in the main role. And no, his comic genius is not enough to keep a film floating.
The story itself is promising, focusing on a group of people hardly ever featured in fiction, namely the many immigrants of Bucharest. Unfortunately, the film misses the chance to work on an original theme by playing it safe and using more clichés than a summer blockbuster: the Italians are loud and gregarious, the Russians drink liquor like water, and the Romanians, well, they are lovable losers.
Against this multi-culti backdrop, three friends, a Russian, a Bulgarian and a hopeless Romanian (this being Mălăele, of course), bump into a Gipsy fortune teller on a drunk night and she tells them when they're going to die. And what do you know: she's right. Except with our hero, whose supposed near death gives birth to both massive public support and some seriously disturbing reactions from his neighbors.
Anyone familiar with Mălăele's background will not be surprised at the highly theatrical feel of his film. But this is also the pic's main problem. A film is a film, meaning a very different medium and mixing the two gracefully requires great skill. One which eluded Mr. Mălăele completely this time; the movie often feels like a filmed play or – in the happier cases – like a TV sketch. The mix between fairytale and reality, humor and tragedy is also squeaky. There's no better way to say it: this film is quite a mess.
By the end of it I had been running out of patience with the story's naivety and the candy-colored pictures. However, I have friends who enjoyed the film for its flamboyant spirit and undeniably human message, so maybe you should take my (grumpy) opinion with a bigger pinch of salt this time and give Funeralii fericite a shot. It's playing in selected cinemas across the country and here's the trailer.
By Ioana Moldovan, columnist, email@example.com