Evidently produced on the most minuscule of budgets and reportedly a troubled production in many ways, this Romanian road movie proves, after a shaky start, to have energy to spare. Theatrical possibilities for a no-name pic from a country without much of a filmmaking reputation (lately, at least) are supremely difficult, but quality TV programmers should take a look at what’s been achieved here from the most modest resources (the budget didn’t even cover a press kit).
This first feature of Cristi Puiu actually represents the road movie genre in its purest form, since most of the film consists of a drive, in a battered van, from Constanta, on the Black Sea, to Bucharest.
The film’s youthful protagonist, Ovidiu (Alexandru Papadopol), is trying to establish his own business; he sells soft drinks and snacks from his parents’ apartment. But he’s ambitious, and he accepts the offer of a local gangster to take a bag of “stuff,” something unspecified but undoubtedly illegal, from Constanta to the capital. The reward, of course, will be plenty of “dough.” Along for the ride is his best friend and his girlfriend.
The preliminary scenes don’t auger well; the Dogma-inspired hand-held camera is all over the place, and the characters come across as flat, familiar and uninteresting. But once the action hits the road, things get a whole lot better.
For the vast bulk of the film, the camera sits in the back seat of the van as the trio drives along what passes for a highway in Romania (two lanes, one each way). Lacking horsepower and faced with plenty of slow-moving traffic, the trip doesn’t get up to speed until Ovidiu and his friends find themselves being pursued by some tough guys in a red jeep — guys who look dangerous and seem to mean business. With police checks and detours up ahead, the road to Bucharest proves to be a rocky one indeed.
Papadopol, Dragos Bucur as his macho pal and sulky Ioana Flora, as the young woman who finds herself on a dangerous ride, are all effective in this small-scale but remarkably proficient production.