Romania hooks up with Hollywood to get Closer to the Moon
by Stefan Dobroiu
- The period tragicomedy is Romania's most significant collaboration with Hollywood and will be released on 7 March
It happened one day in 1959 in Bucharest: four men and one woman robbed an armoured car belonging to the National Bank of Romania, stealing an enormous amount of money. When they were caught, the authorities were bewildered: all five were important members of the Communist Party. What made them steal so many banknotes that were worthless outside Romania, with nothing valuable enough to buy within the country itself? Closer to the Moon [+see also:
film profile], Nae Caranfil's first film since 2007 and the director's first in the English language, light-heartedly tries to answer this question...
Based on a true story and one of the most expensive productions in Romanian cinema, Closer to the Moon stars Mark Strong as Max Rădoiu, a police colonel fed up with the system he had helped to build. A member of the Jewish community, he is even more dissatisfied with the Party's tendencies towards religious cleansing. Together with his friends Alice (Vera Farmiga), a political scientist, Iorgu (Christian McKay), a history professor, Dumi (Tim Plester), a rocket scientist, and Răzvan (Joe Armstrong), a respected journalist, Rădoiu carefully plans the robbery, which Caranfil portrays through extensive flashbacks.
The heroes call themselves Romanian Robin Hoods, and that's exactly what they are, but what they actually steal from the all-powerful Party and give to the rest of the country is not money, but hope. It's easy to understand the frustration of the Securitate leaders when the money is stolen, as one of the most widely promoted advantages of Communism was the lack of crime in society. But the most interesting, absurd and even surreal aspect of the case is that after the five were arrested, the Securitate forced them to reenact the robbery in front of the camera in order to make a propaganda film to show all over the country.
After a work-in-progress surprise screening last year at the Transilvania International Film Festival, Caranfil jokingly declared: “75% of what happens in the film is true. And 75% is fictional.” An oddly accurate statement, aided by a montage from the original propaganda film included in the end credits. One can see the original heroes of the story being arrested, put on trial and forced to reenact the robbery, the screenplay only filling in the gaps in their story with Caranfil's usual energy and aplomb.
Unfortunately, the film sometimes feels like an ambitious compromise. The story was too interesting and the approach too light for Caranfil to transform his screenplay into a popular Romanian movie, and it's easy to understand why the director wanted greater exposure for his story. But the involvement of Hollywood might put off the domestic audience, as Romanian names sound strange when pronounced by the mostly British and American cast, no matter how convincing their acting is. Again, the film is too local and unfamiliar to have a wide release in the United States, and chances are that Closer to the Moon will find itself stranded in distribution limbo.
No matter how many admissions the film gathers over the next few weeks, Caranfil remains the best-loved Romanian director after the Revolution. Before Golden Bear winner Child's Pose [+see also:
interview: Calin Peter Netzer
film profile] became the most successful domestic release of the last decade, Caranfil's Philanthropy was the most popular local production, with many of its one-liners quoted in everyday conversation. Now the director's fans have the chance to add to the list.
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