A teen girl with a crush on the local stud finds misplaced confidence through this uneven liaison in “The World Is Mine,” a millennial-generation drama that announces an assertive new voice in debuting helmer Nicolae Constantin Tanase, even as it succumbs to many usual first-film flaws. Looking far less low-budget than the reported $168,000 outlay, the pic displays gumption on- and offscreen, proving it’s possible to make slick all-Romanian features without coin from the National Center for Cinematography. Anchored by talented non-pro leads, “The World Is Mine” isn’t markedly original but should greatly appeal to the teen bracket, and is likely to do strong biz at home.
The unnecessary opening voiceover is one of several overused devices all too common in first features, since it ultimately tells very little about the inner life of protag Larisa (Ana Maria Guran). At 16, she’s living with her weak-willed mother and abusive stepdad, Nelu, and her only emotional bond with her family comes from her mute, immobile grandmother. An exceptionally well-shot scene has Larisa in closeup chattering away on the phone with a friend; gradually audiences realize she’s multitasking, changing her grandmother’s diaper while she gabs. But the scene is so discreetly composed, with the unpleasant task just out of frame, that in just that minute or so Tanase captures Larisa’s teen preoccupations, the tension with her mother, and her unstated yet tangible sense of responsibility to her semi-catatonic grandmother.
Larisa is hot and heavy for Florin (Florin Hritcu), a swaggering bad boy, though she has a rival in Ana (Iulia Ciochina), the high-school bitch princess whose father is the most powerful man in town. Initially Larisa mutely takes Ana’s abuse until she’s more certain of Florin’s interest, and then she hits back, causing a ruckus at both school and home, since Ana’s influential father (never seen) has everyone quaking in their boots, including Larisa’s stepdad and the school principal.
A violent Nelu demands that Larisa apologize, but instead she flees the house with some of Mom’s hidden dough and heads to Florin, who takes her virginity in a well-handled, coldly discomforting scene. Although the sex is dispassionate, Larisa feels she’s queen of the ball, boasting to her best friends (Oana Rusu, Ana Vatamanu) and feeling confident of her status as the cool guy’s g.f. But Florin’s the wham-bam type, and Larisa’s intoxicating sense of assurance, already on shaky ground, is headed for a tumble.
With her huge hoop earrings and empowering bluster not quite covering her hesitant grasp on any aspect of her life, Larisa is an impressively conceived character, nailing the uncertainty of 16 via an ear for convincing teenspeak. Unfortunately, the milquetoast mom and mean stepdad are stock figures that barely register, and even Ana and Florin are fairly stereotyped roles, although within their narrow conception these two feel real.
Clearly Tanase wants to try too much out in this, his first foray into features, and the pic lacks a sense of discipline: The use of flashback, inner voice, slow-mo and rollicking camera shots largely suggests a novice looking to flex his bona fides, yet the young helmer clearly has talent. A surprising dreamlike f/x shot toward the end carries unexpected emotional weight (and looks damn good considering the low budget), though some may feel it’s out of place.
Guran is a find, subtly registering Larisa’s swings between insecurity and misbegotten arrogance: You sense a full-blooded character whose eyes perceive almost every situation with ill-judged understanding. Daniel Kosuth’s lensing favors an ultra-inquisitive camera via extra-tight shots that give way to a solid sense of place, but less jiggling would have reined in the sense of unruliness. The grudgingly catchy hip-hop song “Toata Tara” (“Across the Country”), sung by Romanian thrush Ruby, fits the mood perfectly.