Thursday, September 13, 2007

“California Dreaming (Endless)” was my first experience with Romanian film, and just a taste left me looking forward to a second serving.

The story is based on a real-life incident during the Kosovo war. It’s 1999, and a unit of American soldiers, led by Captain Doug Jones (Armand Assante) and Sergeant David McLaren (Jamie Elman) are escorting a piece of radar equipment to Kosovo, when their train is halted in a small Romanian village (based on a real event). Doiaru (Razvan Vasilescu), the station master and town troublemaker/fixer, seeks to teach the Americans and Romanian government a lesson and holds up the train in red tape. Meanwhile, the rest of the villagers embrace the Americans. They represent opportunity in the form of commerce, romance, or escape. For the pandering mayor, it may be a way to rid them of Doiaru. To Doiaru, they are soldiers who have arrived 50 years to late to do him any good.

A real life tragedy is that the director, Cristian Nemescu, was killed in a car accident along with his sound editor, Andrei Toncu, on August 24, 2006. I would have loved to see what he would have done next, as this film is an excellent first feature that showed more potential than flaws. I wonder what the film would ultimately look like if he had survived: the film was not completed when Cristian died, but was finished to a point that it can be shown. I imagine there would have been some subsequent tinkering as the story and editing could use some tightening, and the ending a little ambiguous (it's Romanian New Wave, so maybe that's to be expected). But the film serves as a beautifully shot and poignant testement to his life.

The story itself is interesting without being heavy handed and overly sentimental, with the Romanian’s viewing the American’s as both saviour and interloper, and the American soldiers just wanting to complete their mission and move on. Razvan Vasilescu as Doiaru and Maria Dinulescu as his daughter were excellent, and I was impressed by this turn by Jamie Elman, whose previous work included the lead in the old YTV high school sitcom Student Bodies (he was the cartoonist working with his friends on the school paper). The movie’s cast manages to convey the humour, the hope, and the inevitable disappointment, as the Americans can’t fulfill all the promises expected of them. 3.5/5