Of Snails and Men debuts at TIFF
by Stefan Dobroiu
05/06/2012 - Included in the Romanian Days sidebar at the Transylvania International Film Festival (TIFF) (June 1-10), Tudor Giurgiu's Of Snails and Men is already proving very popular among the festival's guests and cinemagoers. Inspired by true events covered by the Romanian press at the beginning of the 1990s, the comedy explores the local talent for improvisation.
Among the bleak Romanian dramas that are usually selected and awarded at film festivals all over the world but practically ignored when domestically released, Of Snails and Men is a much-needed change, as Romanian cinema lacks comedies that can appeal to cinemagoers less interested in auteur films who simply want to relax in front of the big screen.
The story is simple: in a small town, the state-owned car factory, which employs almost all the local men, is about to be privatized. What the workers do not know is that their manager (Dorel Visan) plans to make money from the deal and approaches two French businessmen, father and son (played by father and son actors Jean-François and Robinson Stévenin), who are interested in buying the factory but intend to convert it into a snail cannery. There is not much space in their plan for the thousands of workers, but the only one who struggles to save the factory is the union leader (Andi Vasluianu). His crazy solution scares his fellow workers somewhat, as it involves them selling their sperm to an American sperm bank...
The screenplay, written by Ionut Teianu, struggles between forgettable one-liners and moments that might make a better impression as short films, but Of Snails... has a lot of energy that could keep audiences entertained. Among snails, cars and bearded workers, Monica Barladeanu (Francesca, Maternity Blues, Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood) is the eye-candy presence as the manager's secretary and also the lover of the (married) union leader. Her ambitions are too big for the small town, which feels like a prison to her, so she is quite interested in the attention she receives from the young French businessman...
But the star of the colourfull show is Dorel Visan, who is still one of Romania's most popular actors, even following a few quite poorly received films in recent years. Very much at ease as the greedy manager who wants to finance his retirement with a death blow to the state-owned factory, Visan is funny and believable. His best moment (and perhaps the entire film's) is without doubt a conversation (in French) with the future owners of the factory, a sequence that will be partly lost in translation if Of Snails and Men is released in other territories.
Produced by Libra Film and Agat Film (France), the project received a grant from the National Film Center in 2011. Of Snails and Men will be domestically released on September 14, through Libra's distribution arm, Independenta Film. At TIFF, it is competing for the awards of the Romanian Days sidebar, among better known productions such as Radu Jude's Everybody in Our Family [trailer, film focus], Adrian Sitaru's Best Intentions and Anca Damian's Crulic - The Path to Beyond [trailer, film focus]. Maybe Giurgiu's film has no chance for the awards announced on Saturday but it definitely is a success at TIFF: it currently tops the popularity list that is updated daily, according to cinemagoers' votes.