Bucolic farce veers abruptly into nightmare when Stalin’s death interrupts a young couple’s wedding celebration in Romanian thesp Horatiu Malaele’s ’50s-set helming debut. Though “Wedding” has been likened to Emir Kusturica’s madcap gypsy romps, the pic’s magic realism-dusted portrayal of backwater villagers exudes a folkloric gentility very different from the havoc wreaked by Kusturica’s explosive Roms. Horror, when it arrives, come from the outside; nothing within the peaceful hamlet echoes the evil that descends upon it. Morally simplistic but highly accessible, with its ingenious “silent wedding” centerpiece, the pic, already in theatrical release globally, could find receptive Stateside auds.
It is 1953, but the village seems stuck in a far earlier time; there’s no electricity, and telephones and gasoline-powered vehicles are the exclusive province of officialdom. Women work around the farmhouse and men congregate in the tavern, alongside the occasional chicken. The local representatives of communist oppression are about as threatening as a band of Boy Scouts.
Culture shock tends toward the benign, as when a naked young couple suddenly rears up from behind the long grasses of a seemingly empty field. Even madness assumes nymphlike form as a white-robed young woman wanders the woods like some flower-crowned Ophelia.
Helmer Malaele is enamored of quiet fantastical touches. A would-be Icarus tools around the countryside on a spindly old two-wheeled bicycle, sporting aviator goggles and canvas wings. The high-wheeler later serves to motor the government-mandated outdoor screening of a Soviet meller, which is interrupted by the silent passage of a torch-lit traveling circus which, Pied Piper-like, lures away the entire town.
The community’s only source of conflict is resolved when the boy and girl who have been bonking like rabbits, in granaries and nearby pastures, decide to get married. But just as townsfolk are gearing up for the nuptial bash, a Russian officer brings news of Stalin’s death and declares all celebrations verboten.
In Malaele’s extended showstopper, the wedding party disperses and reforms clandestinely in utter silence. Glasses, chairs and musical instruments are wrapped in burlap; even children are gagged after wild spates of giggling. Wordless toasts are offered, air applause is given, and the slightest sound causes ripples of reaction down the long length of the single table. When the revelers finally throw caution to the wind, it reps the beginning of the end.
Though Malaele pulls off the pic’s tonal shifts with panache, greatly aided by strong ensemble thesping, the film never quite sustains the inner tension required to link its series of isolated, sometimes cunningly crafted setpieces.