Friday, March 23, 2007

From the Cleveland International Film Festival

Another review from Anne Price, whose covering the Cleveland International Film Festival for Cleveland this week. This one's about the Romania film 12:08 East of Bucharest...

If Christopher Guest were a Romanian director, he couldn't top the hilarity and wry commentary on revolution found in Corneliu Porumboiu's terrific directorial debut, 12:08 East of Bucharest.

This was on my schedule of films as the cinematic equivalent of oatmeal, or prunes: good for the constitution, but probably nothing worth writing about. How wrong could one person be? I left the theater with eyeliner streaming, wondering if perhaps a lung collapsed from too much laughter. Was thankful for English subtitles; a roaring audience drowned-out much of the spoken dialogue.

The basic premise: sixteen years after dictator Ceausescu's scramble to flee Romania amidst a swarm of angry protestors, Jderescu (Teodor Corban), the TV station owner in a small hamlet outside Bucharest, wants to know: was their city part of the revolution, or merely witnesses and celebrants after the fact? Staging a panel discussion, he's determined to answer this question.

Unlikely Stars
When scheduled participants bail on him, he's left scrambling to find replacements. Enter the town's drunken history teacher, Manescu (played with deadpan hilarity by Ion Sapdaru), and its elderly part-time Santa Claus, Piscoci (a perfect Mircea Andreescu). That fateful day might have found them staging a revolution. However, they just might have been getting drunk in the local bar.

Unfamiliar with the spotlight and ensuing challenges, panelists spend their time shredding paper in quiet frustration or building paper boats from boredom. The latter is simply a priceless, hilarious touch. Equally wonderful is Piscoci's mundane but beautiful retelling of exactly what he did the day Communism fell in Romania. Was he watching Tom and Jerry or Laurel and Hardy? We may never know for certain.

Hilarious Blend
Add more alcohol, confusion, callers who range from cantankerous to just plain quirky, an inexperienced, literally unfocused videographer and shake well. The result is a perfect blend of breezy humor and relevant questions about what constitutes recollection of "the truth."

Despite the overall levity, a deeper, more serious profound message is contained with the film. Piscoci, the aged voice of reason and resignation, is used as the delivery vehicle. People make revolution wherever and whenever they can; liberation from within is far more important than the details of location and timing.

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