Tales from the Golden Age
Directed by Cristian Mungiu, Hanno Höfer, Razvan Marculescu, Constantin Popescu and Ioana Maria Uricaru
The idea of a chockablock Romanian omnibus is intriguing coming from the land of feature-friendly long takes and process-oriented storytelling. If much of the country's new wave has functioned as fruitful movie-length dilations of grim punchlines to life under Communism, what happens when tried-and-true sardonic bloc nostalgia is given less space to breathe and grow into something different and strange?
The answer is found with the belated release of Tales from the Golden Age—originally the title of a series planned by Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), who opened the project to other directors in response to the sense that contemporary Romanian film was too festival-y. Presented as dramatizations of urban legends from the Ceausescu era, the mixed results are conceptually subversive in suggesting an oral culture that itself mingles lived truth with evocative legend (a word that's part of each chapter title), offering an alternative to State truthiness that is itself full of lessons on life under the State. But the majority of the pointedly unattributed featurettes feel toothless and told before they're done, recalling cutesier moments from Milos Forman's movies about contemporary native Czechoslovakia. Party directives get hectic compliance amidst the pretense of unity; bureaucrats butt heads with yokel farmers; there are empty authority figures (a father botching the preparation of a pig) and allegories of mutually enforced folly (honored visitors and kowtowing locals are trapped on a carnival ride).
The last episode "The Legend of the Chicken Driver," however, is the payoff to its (entirely bearable and often funny) predecessors. Vlad Ivanov (the abortionist from 4 Months) plays an average-joe truck driver, lonely, sexually frustrated, and playing along with a rather pleasant black market. Along with the young scammers of "The Legend of the Air Sellers," its strength lies in the ground-level detail of daily life and in an earned sense of decency and creeping directionlessness.
Opens August 26 at IFC Center