Review: ‘Offset’

"Offset" focuses on a Romanian woman torn between her German fiance and her local lover, though the themes have as much to do with Romania's place in contemporary Europe as with the complicated romance that unfolds. Helmed with unexpected maturity by Didi Danquart, fest play could boost Euro arthouse sales.

Though German funded (with additional coin from France and Switzerland), “Offset” fits snugly into the crop of Romanian pics making the Balkan nation one of the hot industries to watch in recent years. Scripted by the same pair who wrote “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” “Offset” focuses on a Romanian woman torn between her German fiance and her local lover, though the themes have as much to do with Romania’s place in contemporary Europe as with the complicated romance that unfolds. Helmed with unexpected maturity by Didi Danquart, fest play could boost Euro arthouse sales.

Stefan (Felix Klare) is in Bucharest to install a new offset machine in the printer’s shop owned by Nicolai “Nicu” Iorga (Razvan Vasilescu). During the short time he’s been there, he’s fallen in love with Nicu’s German-speaking secretary Brindusa (Alexandra Maria Lara), who’s ended her affair with the boss and accepted Stefan’s proposal of marriage.

Nicu is thrown for a loop when he learns of the wedding only days before his ex-mistress is to tie the knot, and does everything in his considerable power to destroy the relationship and bring Stefan down. Meanwhile, preparations are going forward and Stefan’s family (overly stereotyped) arrive from Germany, bringing a sour attitude and a superior outlook despite the best efforts of Brindusa’s warm and gentle father (Valentin Platareanu).

First seen in a hospital corridor (reminiscent of “Mr. Lazarescu”), Stefan and Brindusa are the picture of a happy couple: the only tension appears to come from Nicu’s simmering hatred. But Brindusa has difficulty completely giving up her former relationship one that offers the compelling feeling of being desired by a powerful man — whose charisma both repulses and attracts.

Whatever else the increasingly cruel Nicu has done, he gave her more flowers than any of her other suitors, Brindusa tells her father.

Underneath it all, “Offset” is commenting on the differences between the German and Romanian psyches, one fostered by a country partaking in the riches of the first world, and the other the product of an ex-communist bloc nation struggling to bridge the enormous divide that began with the Iron Curtain.

As Europe prepares to welcome Romania into the EU, the issue of whether the country is ready to step up to the plate, and whether the Continent will be ready to embrace the latest member of its team, is especially relevant — the negative assessment here may anger some, though perhaps this is a more honest estimation than more rosy-tinted evaluations.

Main star Lara, whose turn as Hitler’s secretary in “Downfall” was overshadowed by Bruno Ganz’s monumental perf, shines as the modern, confident woman discovering that her conception of love and comfort are intimately wrapped up in notions of regional experience. Born in Bucharest but raised in Germany, the role seems tailor-made to her abilities. Real-life dad Platareanu is the definition of the genteel intellectual, while Vasilescu’s forceful personality maintains a magnetism despite the monster within.

Especially successful in filming dialogue and keeping it natural in several languages, Danquart establishes a rhythm that nicely balances tensions with scenes of genuine warmth. Editing follows the narrative, and expertly shifts tone without feeling manipulative or forced.

Offset

Germany

Production

A Noirfilm presentation of an Integral Film, C-Films production, in collaboration with ZDF/ARTE, ARTE France Cinema, SWR, Schweizer Fernsehen, in association with Mobra Films. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Geiselgasteig, Germany.) Produced by Boris Michalski. Co-producers, Alfred Huermer, Philippe Avril, Peter Reichenbach, Andi Huber. Directed by Didi Danquart. Screenplay, Danquart, Cristi Puiu, Razvan Radulescu.

Crew

Camera (color), Johann Feindt; editor, Nico Hain; music, Klaus Buhlert; production designer, Urs Beuter; costume designer, Bettina Marx; sound (Dolby SRD), Matz Mueller, Erik Mischijew; line producer, Wernfried Natter-Conradi; assistant director, Laura Mihartescu, casting, Danquart, Cristian Mungiu. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (noncompeting), Oct. 17, 2006. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Alexandra Maria Lara, Felix Klare, Razvan Vasilescu, Katharina Thalbach, Manfred Zapatka, Valentin Platareanu, Anna Stieblich, Bruno Cathomas, Ioana Abur, Marius Chivu, Andi Vasluianu, Tania Popa. (German, Romanian, English, French dialogue)
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