12:08 East of Bucharest
R1 - America - Tartan Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Ben Austin (23rd October 2007).
The Film

Romania seems to be one of those countries that haven't really got its act together after communism fell in the early 1990's. Democracy has come, new opportunities have opened, but things generally look decrepit and a lot of people might actually be worse off than before. But that is not what this movie is about, this is no soul-searching angst-ridden tirade against the failure of the Revolution to make everyone millionaires and happy. Instead it is more personable, more selfish, seeking only to examine the contribution of a provincial town and its people to the Revolution. Why? Well the 16th anniversary of the Revolution came and the local television station needed a story to fill its talk-show. How very Western after all.
Were we leaders or followers? The defining moment of the Revolution happened around mid-day in Bucharest and the question that the television station poses is when did their town start supporting the Revolution; before or after televised shots of the dictator fleeing were broadcast? If the former, then their revolutionary credentials are solid, and people can rest easy knowing they played their part, if the latter, then maybe the townspeople were just followers and not leaders. But does it really matter either way? It doesn't seem to, except to serve as a bulwark to the identities and opinions of some of the townspeople who have claimed to be heroes.
There are three main characters in the film, the television host, the teacher and the old man. In developing their characterization the film is relatively traditional, spending time with each before moving onto the body of the movie, the talk show. While brief this characterization is sufficient to make sense of what happens later, during the show.
Virgil (Teodor Corban), the television host is a blustering, stressed figure, slightly despicable in his treatment of wife Doamna (Luminita Gheorghiu), mistress and staff, not a figure one can have much sympathy with. The Professor / Teacher is even less likable, a hopeless drunk owing money to all, but seemingly unable or unwilling to stop, he is a figure of contempt to the community. Old man Manescu (Ion Sapdaru) lives alone, helping out his neighbors when needed, yelling at the local kids the rest of the time, performing as Santa Claus when needed. It is hard to know what he really thinks.
In setting the majority of the film in the television studio, during the talk show on the town's contribution to the Revolution the audience merges with the show's audience. This merging of the two audiences is rather neat, and it helps reinforce the focus on the dialogue rather than action. However there is a downside to this focus on one location, the real audience may well find it hard to retain their attention, especially when sub-titles are involved. Talk shows do not transfer well to subtitles.
The dialogue between the host and his panel, made up of the teacher and the old man is progressively extended to the town, as viewers call in to challenge the recollection of the teacher. What follows is a confused yet strangely enthralling deconstruction of the teacher's repeated assertion of Revolutionary credentials. This is matched by a wider loss of control by the involved parties, as a sullen mood descends on the panel. Clearly most people chose to not think about the Revolution, and this discussion has raised much dirty laundry and tension that had remained hidden. People apparently do not like to revisit traumatic episodes.
The image generated of provincial Romania is depressing. Buildings look decrepit, and people seem slightly resentful of other's success. The atmosphere screams 1970's but with the occasional flash of modernity that reminds the viewer that it is the 21st century. The grim image is reinforced by some of the cultural attitudes the townspeople hold, like a casual racism when talking to the Chinese shop owner. When he calls into the talk-show to defend his friend the teacher Virgil, the host, tells him that he has no right to speak because he is a foreigner that he should go back to China rather than sell fireworks to the local children. He is a part of the community, but not accepted, nor even well liked. His supposed best friend, the teacher, abuses him regularly when drunk. This is reinforced by Virgil's angry lecture to a performing band to play Romanian music not Latin samba. The fact that this type of activity was included in the film either indicates Romania is still a vaguely unsavory place or that provincial towns are incredibly boorish. I'm not sure which, or even if this was part of the writer's intention.
So...this film works, the story is relatively easy to follow, the film is concise, the characters believable. Where it falls down is that it is overly dialogue intensive, which does not work well with subtitles, especially when the majority of the film is confined to a TV studio.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 this anamorphic transfer is quite good. I wasn't sure what to expect, as I'd never seen a Romanian film so I wasn't sure what level of quality the transfer would be presented in or what format the film was shot in for that matter. The result is rather good, Tartan have done a decent job with this release which is sharp and clean. The image is a bit on the dark side and colors are drab and muted which I believe is the look intended by the filmmaker but otherwise the black levels are consistent and bold throughout and some grain can be seen but no major problems can be spotted such as compression related issues or edge-enhancement.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in the film's original Romanian language and are in DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 and also in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS track. The resulting track was quite a solid effort, the dialogue was presented strongly, clearly and distortion free. The films ambient sound was also well mixed but did lack some depth. The surround elements are subtle but effective and the film's music comes across well in the sound space.
Optional subtitles are included in English.

Extras

First up we've got a feature-length audio commentary by the film's writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu which is in English. In this track the filmmaker comments on the inspiration for the film, the characters and some script development issues such as in the original version the band wasn't included. He also comments on making the film on a short schedule but being relaxed enough to allow one extra day at each location. He also talks about the rehearsal process for the TV show among other things. Porumboiu takes us through his first feature film in a rather droll fashion, the slow pace, accent and frequent silent gaps make this a trying commentary to get through.

Also included on this disc is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 1 minute 24 seconds.

Rounding out the supplements is a collection of bonus trailers for:
- "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" which runs for 1 minute 24 seconds.
- "Red Road" which runs for 2 minutes 10 seconds.
- "The Page Turner" which runs for 1 minute 45 seconds.
- "The Cave of the Yellow Dog" which runs for 3 minutes 21 seconds.
- "The Perfect Crime" which runs for 1 minute 33 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: B- Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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