The antithesis of the grim naturalism of the best-known new Romanian cinema, helmer Alexandru Maftei’s bittersweet romantic comedy “Hello! How Are You?” feels like a breath of fresh air, proving that even more commercial films can deliver emotional epiphanies. Witty, stylishly crafted tale of a husband and wife whose 20-year marriage has long since lost its zing, making them vulnerable to the enticements of an Internet chatroom, is ripe for remake. Fest travel beckons, with domestic theatrical prospects looking fine for this fall release.
From the opening scene, framed so that the heads of the central couple are cut off, helmer Maftei makes it clear musician Gabriel (low-key Ionel Mihailescu) and dimpled dry-cleaning proprietress Gabriela (theater thesp Dana Voicu, the helmer’s wife) live like two strangers who no longer see each other. But in humorous contrast to their staid, passionless lives, he surrounds them with characters in a constant state of sexual arousal.
Their libidinous teen son, Vladimir (theater student Paul Diaconescu in a sizzling debut), whose hilarious voiceover commentary intermittently provides important narrative information, prides himself on being the high school stud and aspires to a career in porn. Gabriela’s sexy employee Toni (fetching Ana Popescu) switches boyfriends like she changes clothes. And despite being married, Gabriel’s colleague Marcel (Ioan Andrei Ionescu) is working his way through the female members of their orchestra.
Eventually, circumstances lead the two Gabys to discover the joys of anonymous online chat. After several long nights in intimate conversation with a stranger, they fall in love without knowing that they have actually found each other. In a poignant climactic twist, their virtual affair ultimately reconnects them with their own desires, but in a way less movie-fantasy and more satisfyingly real-life: Pic might sound similar in outline to “The Shop Around the Corner” and remake “You’ve Got Mail,” but is actually headed in a very different direction.
Maftei’s striking, always-inventive compositions find visual equivalents for the fog of love and frustration his characters feel. Montage sequences of the Gabys’ daily life with superimposed lines of Internet dialogue are particularly nice.
Displaying a companionable chemistry, Voicu and Mihailescu convince as a long-married couple guiltily contemplating cheating. Meanwhile, ultra-confident Diaconescu captures the right over-the-top tone as their manipulative only child.
Reportedly the first Romanian romantic comedy since 1990, the charming script by Lia Bugnar (better known as an actress) grew out of an idea by Maftei, which was in turn inspired by a news item. The fact that there is nothing especially Romanian about the story adds to its universal dimension; the attractive but non-particularized settings might be found anywhere.
Unlike the films of the Romanian new wave, which tend toward only diegetic use of music, “Hello!” is motored by a dynamic score that varies from jaunty jazz to orchestral. Rest of the tech package is solid.