Aharrowing portrait of the dead-end lives of a couple of young Romanians in turbulent, post-Communist Bucharest, veteran helmer Dan Pita’s “Pepe & Fifi” is simply too relentlessly downbeat to appeal to international auds. It is a moving , slice-of-life drama, but bleak tone eventually overwhelms pic.
Mood is set in the first moment, as a scruffy beggar predicts the imminent apocalypse, and atmosphere only toughens further with introduction of Pepe (Cristian Iacob), an up-and-coming boxer who gets beaten up badly in a jolting fight scene. His sister Fifi (Irina Movila) spends most of her time cruising Bucharest’s trashy nightclub scene, where she meets an ultra-sleazy pimp/mobster named the Baron.
Shot in grainy, low-budget style in the seedier parts of Bucharest, “Pepe & Fifi” makes it clear that toppling the Communist dictatorship was hardly a panacea for Romania’s social ills.
But the point is driven home with all the subtlety of a pneumatic drill. Throughout the film, Pepe’s best friend, the wheelchair-bound Carol, shouts out a steady stream of political commentary through a megaphone, and homeless people deliver wordy, politically aware speeches.
Sound quality is a bit dodgy at moments and Dan Alexandru’s camerawork mirrors the dark temper of the story.