Before establishing himself -- and, by extension, Romanian cinema -- as a international force well worth watching with the Cannes-winning THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (2005), Cristi Puiu made this dryly funny, deceptively simple road movie that quietly reveals the state of contemporary Romanian life.
Young Ovidiu Mitica (Alexandru Papadopol) lives in a cramped apartment in the port city of Constanta with his parents (Luminita Gheorghiu, Constantin Draganescu), who subsist on their tiny grocery kiosk's nickel-and-dime profits. Ovidiu plans to move out and open his own kiosk as soon as he saves enough money, and to help fund his ambitions agrees to act as a courier for Mr. Marcel Ivanov (Razvan Vasilescu), a local "businessman" Ovidiu's father knows and doesn't trust. Mr. Ivanov will pay Ovidiu to carry six boxes of what appear to be pharmaceutical medicines from Constanta to a Bucharest address, where he'll drop them off with a certain Mr. Doncea (Doru Ana). According to Mr. Ivanov's precise schedule, Ovidiu must leave Constanta at 10 am sharp, drive non-stop to Bucharest and meet Mr. Doncea at exactly 2 pm. He's not to stop, not even for a bathroom break or to pick up hitchhikers. When he returns, Ovidiu will receive the other half of his fee. As he prepares to leave, Mr. Ivanov notices a red jeep outside the Mitica's apartment building; within minutes, Ovidiu has violated his instructions by inviting his friend, Vali (Dragos Bucur), to come along. When Vali arrives, it's with his new girlfriend, Betty (Iona Flora). Ovidiu balks, then relents, and the three of them hit the road. Not long into their journey, however, the same red jeep Mr. Ivanov noticed earlier is pulling up close behind them, trying to wave them off the road. When Vali, who's driving, ignores them, the jeep pulls up along side and smashes the drivers' side window. Ovidiu has no idea who's in the jeep or what they want, but a simple trip to Bucharest has suddenly become a life-threatening ordeal.
Puiu's film is a day-in-the-life look at a group of young people living in a country still recovering from years of misrule and international neglect, shot with the kind of off-the-cuff, jump-cut filled energy that validates the catchphrase "Romanian New Wave." And while a comedy, it manages to reveal something deadly serious: a level of corruption that seems endemic to contemporary Romanian society. Unhelpful cops are there to be bribed, consumer goods are sold in something close to a black market and even the simplest-seeming money-making enterprise can be a trap fraught with menace and abrupt violence. leave a comment --Ken Fox