The feature debut of Cristian Nemescu presents an awkward conundrum (and an invocation for every review): the Romanian director died in a car accident, before completing his own edit. Set in 1999, the resulting 155 minutes of untailored storytelling overlays a familiar Eastern European village-backwater mold with equally familiar geopolitical critique.
When a crooked stationmaster (sly Razvan Vasilescu) detains a train carrying NATO soldiers and radar equipment, the blockhead American captain in command (Armand Assante) is all thumbs, the local girls are all abuzz, and a mayoral welcome-fest w/ Elvis impersonator is not far off. Stationmaster’s daughter Monica (Maria Dinulescu) aims for the camouflage pants of a U.S. soldier (Jamie Elman), oblivious to a pining, Screech-haired wimp (Alex Margineanu).
The dawdling, the tonal balkiness, and the equal regard for mixed performances all add up to a disfiguring handicap for this setup. Nemescu’s prior films — three shorts, mostly about horny teens — suggest that a final cut would have been considerably more spry and possibly more soundtracked. But if you’re going to speculate, then it’s also fair to say that the shorts get pretty grating, not unlike the handheld work and clunky relationships here.
California Dreamin’ won a prize at Cannes in 2007, in what reads as a combined response to an energetic young talent lost, a lovefest over Romanian cinema, and a continuing American presence in Iraq. Finally, I’d be remiss if I omitted mention of the Sexy Dracula revue lavished on the visiting soldiers by the put-upon mayor (Ion Sapdaru, also in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and 12:08 East of Bucharest).