Best Intentions: Too subjective to attract large audiences?
by Stefan Dobroiu
10/08/2011 - One of the two Romanian productions in Locarno's main competition, Best Intentions is Adrian Sitaru's second feature (after Hooked [trailer, film focus], Venice Days 2008). It tells the story of Alex (Bogdan Dumitrache), a successful young man whose life becomes a nightmare when his mother suffers a stroke and is sent to a small-town hospital. Trying to ensure the best for her, Alex will realise that the road to hell truly is paved with good intentions.
Surrounded by family and friends, Alex receives plenty of advice about how his mother should be cared for – he also has strong opinions on the subject, and Sitaru focuses mainly on what his protagonist thinks and believes. In fact, Best Intentions is inspired by the director's personal experiences, and he stresses the subjectiveness of his approach by using an unnecessary gimmick, namely the POV shots that he also used in his first feature, Hooked.
Watching Hooked, one could eventually accept the convention – all the scenes were shot by DoP Adrian Silisteanu using very naturalistic POV shots (the camera moved as much as the eyes of the characters did), but things are a little different with Best Intentions. As Alex is always the centre of attention, only the POV of the characters around him are used.
The problem is that the subjective angles are not universally used in the film. Every time there’s a switch between POVs and normal shots, the magic is gone – you realize the artificiality of an artistic decision that conveys no emotion and only reminds the viewer that he or she is watching a film. There are some sequences that are very powerful (an overwhelmed Alex seen through his mother's eyes at the end of her stay in the hospital, for example), but generally the gimmick doesn't help. There is a scene, for instance, where POV seems particularly unnatural – accompanied by his father (Marian Ralea), Alex looks for his mother's hospital ward and, although only the father knows the way, he must stay behind his son, guiding him verbally, as his POV is used.
The subject might be dramatic, but there is room in Best Intentions for humour. Sometimes the hospital ward becomes peculiarly cosy, with many visitors and friends around Alex's family. Sitaru, who is also the film's screenwriter and producer, has a great talent for dialogue and satire, and the audience will have several chances to laugh at the characters' small-talk.
The film's strong point are the actors – Bogdan Dumitrache (The Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man) is perfectly chosen to play the anxious Alex, but hearts will beat faster for Natasa Raab, who is unforgettable as the protagonist's mother, the fragile and confused woman who finds herself on a hospital bed without knowing how she got there. The other performances are also good, but some of the actors seem a little uncomfortable when they are supposed to look into the camera.
Winning a prize at Locarno wouldn't be Sitaru's first happy experience in the Swiss city – a few years ago, his short Waves went home with the top prize of the Leopards of Tomorrow competition.
Best Intentions is produced by HiFilm (Romania), Cor Leonis Films (Hungary) and Sitaru's 4Proof Film. In 2008 it has received a grant of approximately €125,000 from the Romanian National Film Centre, while another €110,000 came from Eurimages. The film's budget amounts to €800,000. Best Intentions is handled internationally by Films Boutique and will be released domestically in October by HiFilm's distribution arm, Parada Film.