“An Unforgettable Summer” is a touching, disturbing account of a Romanian army officer who’s caught in an untenable position by his wife’s tender regard for wrongly condemned Bulgarian peasants. Pic’s topical messages about the pitfalls of rigid ethnic identification and the idiocy of blind retaliation make it a good bet for fests and discerning arthouse audiences.
Bracketed by voiceover narration, pic starts with a sequence that is a mad gallop, with the camera in the saddle, giving viewers a crash course in regional rivalries circa 1925. After this segment, though, the film favors a more stately lensing and editing style, which is a departure from director Lucian Pintilie’s rambunctious razzle-dazzle in 1992’s “The Oak.”
After happily married Marie-Therese Von Debretsy (Kristin Scott-Thomas) snubs Gen. Ipsi lanti’s (Marcel Iures) advances at a city gala, her husband, Capt. Petre Dumitriu (Claudiu Bleont), is reassigned to a God-forsaken frontier post on the Danube, where they set up housekeeping with their three young children.
When Romanian soldiers are ambushed and slaughtered by roving Macedonian bandits, Dumitriu is ordered to retaliate by executing the group of harmless Bulgarian locals that tend his family’s vegetable garden.
Pic dissects what happens when one man’s allegiance to family and career point in two different directions.
Marie-Therese, sensitive-yet-flamboyant in the mold of Zelda Fitzgerald, copes with the moral quandary by acting as if the inevitable can be averted. The actress gives a properly flighty dimension to the loving wife and mom whoseflair for putting a joyous spin on things is forever impaired by the looming atrocity she feels powerless to halt.
Bleont conveys the problems of weighing duty and honor. Razvan Vasilescu, whose frenzied perf in “The Oak” was a standout, is memorable as an opportunistic soldier who has no compunctions about anything the military life may require.
Via dark humor and flashes of cruelty, pic pins down the inexorable lunacy of the military and the damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t turn that personal history can take as a subset of political history.
Period details are a convincing blend of rustic and elegant, and Paul Bortnovschi’s production design is a study in contrasts, as if to mirror fair and unfair, mad and sane. Anton Suteu’s opening music is a sly mix of Mozart and the can-can.
The frantic crescendo of the final sequence has an eerie resonance, as the narrator’s final remarks reframe all that has gone before in a different, deeply ironic light.