Review: ‘The World According to Ion B.’

A homeless man in Bucharest becomes an art-world darling in Alexander Nanau's fascinating docu.

A homeless man in Bucharest becomes an art-world darling in Alexander Nanau’s fascinating docu “The World According to Ion B.” Gallery owner Dan Popescu came upon a Holy Grail of sorts when he discovered Ion Barladeanu living in an empty lot among hundreds of carefully stored collages, and subsequently launched him onto the international art scene. Barladeanu’s mercurial personality proved less malleable than the well-intentioned Popescu bargained for, and while Nanau doesn’t entirely develop his material, this pleasant, hourlong pic is finding a healthy fest life, with TV exposure assured.

Barladeanu was a jack of all trades, but a brief stint in prison (for working privately as a gravedigger during the communist years) likely exacerbated certain mental instabilities. Reasonably educated but completely untrained as an artist, Barladeanu began in the 1970s to create collages out of newspaper and magazine clippings, his compositions making sly references to Romanian society and Nicolae Ceausescu in particular. Though Popescu hails him as a forefather of pop art, he’s really more the heir to such artists as Hannah Hoch, Raoul Hausmann and Georg Grosz, whose experiments with collage during the Dada years reflected the moral and political turmoil of their era.

Unlike such established artists, however, Barladeanu was working in a complete vacuum, partly owing to Romania’s lack of freedom and partly through his own (unexplored) psychological quirks. When discovered by Popescu, he had approximately 900 unseen collages, their wit and exacting compositions hidden in assorted suitcases around his makeshift outdoor home. The gallerist tries hard to get his protege off the streets and into a studio apartment he rents for him, but seems incapable of understanding the erratic mentality of the street artist, thinking a clean bed and public recognition are all that are needed to make Barladeanu a full-fledged member of the community.

Had either helmer Nanau or Popescu been psychologically attuned, they’d have been able to explore more than what’s on the surface; a hint of Barladeanu’s past is offered when he returns to his home village in the east, but by and large, insights are left for auds to piece together.

Lensing, also by Nanau, is smooth and handsome, working equally well on the big- or smallscreen. The Betacam support has none of the digital format’s harshness, and sound quality is faultless.

The World According to Ion B.

Romania

Production

An HBO Romania presentation of an HBO Romania, Alexander Nanau Prod. production, in association with Avro Television, SVT, YLE Teema. (International sales: HBO Romania, Bucharest.) Produced by Carmen Harabagiu, Andrei Cretulescu, Aurelian Nica. Executive producer, Alexander Nanau. Directed, written by Alexander Nanau.

Crew

Camera (color, Betacam), Nanau; editor, Mircea Olteanu; music, Dan Parvu; sound (Dolby), Vlad Voinescu, Fillip Muresan, Matthias Lempert; assistant director, Alexandru Belc. Reviewed at Transylvania Film Festival (HBO Day), June 3, 2010. (Also in Hot Docs, Sarajevo film festivals.) Running time: 60 MIN.

With

Ion Barladeanu, Dan Popescu.

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