Directed by Calin Peter Netzer
An impressive drama about a particularly extreme motherly intervention, this Romanian film observes the fallout from a fatal car accident, applying its hectic realism to a legal entanglement that also develops into an acrimonious family affair. Imperious architect and cultural patron Cornelia (Luminita Gheorgiu, accomplishing the significant feat of humanizing this force of nature) moves to keep her sullen adult son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) from landing behind bars on a manslaughter charge: all indications suggest he was speeding when he struck and killed a teenage pedestrian from a “simple” background. What follows is a portrait of callous upper-crust favor-trading coupled with an even more thorough examination of a fraught mother-son bond.
Early on, Cornelia is seen making excuses for why her child isn’t at her gala birthday, and much of the damage control to follow (keeping a close eye on Barbu’s every movement, trying to rig the police investigation, etc.) also comes from the desperate imperative of maintaining appearances. Cornelia’s husband can be heard uttering his unflattering nickname for her: “Controlia.” (The sharp screenplay was cowritten by Netzer and Razvan Radulescu, who also cowrote the Romanian New Wave touchstone The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.)
When, at a dinner-table conference, Cornelia pleads with Barbu to attend the deceased boy’s funeral (in a calculated ploy to keep the disadvantaged family from pressing charges), Barbu’s resentment at her meddling boils over. From this point forward, the brattily standoffish thirtysomething emerges as a complex character in his own right, reactive mainly when lashing out at his mother: he finds her entirely overbearing, but also makes sure she knows that what assistance he does ask for is lacking. (He berates her for buying a type of over-the-counter medication other than the one he requested.) Several near-masterful sit-down scenes follow in the film’s final stretches, each featuring a more shamelessly manipulative performance by Cornelia as she attempts to buy off a series of key figures without her son’s knowledge. Money might go a long way toward protecting someone from a prison sentence in this capitalist Romania, but Netzer skillfully shows that it’s of no help in fixing a family that has already unraveled from within.
Opens February 19 at Film Forum