Dir: Andrei Cretulescu | Romania/France | Drama | 119′
Romanian cinema seems to have peaked after its recent New Wave heyday led largely by Radu Jude, Cristi Puiu and Cristian Mungiu. who have all been lauded and rewarded on the international festival circuit. The watchwords here have always been ‘lengthy and slow-burning’ often demanding our attention for over two hours, but on the whole this has been worthwhile. Sadly Andrei Cretulescu’s Charleston overstays its welcome at just short of two hours in a drama that feels distinctly self-indulgent – amateurish even.
But although CHARLESTON is not in the major league, there are elements that recommend it. Barbu Bălăşoiu’s artful cinematography showcases modern Bucharest with style and flair enlivening this tragi-comedy with its contemporary take on relationships, music, cultural and outdoor pursuits, all set to jazzy Massimiliano Nardulli’s jazzy score.
The title CHARLESTON could refer to the dance-off between the film’s central duo – although the tone here is more fraught and sorrowful than spirited, in tune with its 1920s-namesake. It may also allude to the awkward impromptu interlude that occurs midday through the action. The problems throughout is that we feel nothing for our central characters. We are also left unmoved by an opening scene where a young woman (Iona/Ana Ularu) is pictured staring at her phone before rushing headlong into a speeding vehicle. Graveside, we then meet her thuggish other half having a fag as he contemplates the future, and possibly the past. Alexandru (Serban Pavluvu is later seen celebrating his 42nd birthday with a select group of friends – a pale imitation of the one in Sieranevada. After dinner Alexandru answers the door to a strangers who then emerges as his dead wife’s former lover. Clearly our brutish hero was totally unaware of the situation – and gives the mushc younger squirt of a man (Sebastian/Radu Iacoban) a good hiding. The wounded lover still stays around, as if to serve a self-indulgent penance in his cuckhold’s former matrimonial home. This grim aftermath then develops into a mutual outpouring of anger, grief, retaliation, claim and counter claim which culminates in a bizarre road trip to the place where the couple spent their honeymoon.
This all sounds plausible and rather intriguing and there are some elements that really work, But less is always better than more in this lacklustre affair which is over-talkie dialogue-wise and underpowered dramatically. One thing is for sure, time out from the endless bickering between Alexandru and his rival Sebastian could have allowed the audience time out to contemplate the scenario from their own perspective and possibly given them more slack . MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017