Shot entirely in Romania and starring Ann-Margret as a real-life Detroit housewife hellbent on adopting an orphan child in ravaged, post-Ceausescu Bucharest, pic represents one of USA’s rare steps into socially relevant material.
It’s also the cable web’s most thematically pointed production since last summer’s “Bobby and Marilyn.” Thus, it’s disappointing that the production’s clunky style and David Wheatley’s uninspired direction are so at odds with the strong subject matter.
Despite the intercutting of gripping news footage of abandoned, forlorn babies in grimy Romanian state orphanages (originally carried on U.S. networks in the days after Ceausescu’s fall), the movie still basically feels too much like one of USA’s action programmers.
As the real-life American wife and husband Carol and Joe Stevens, unable to have a child of their own and mesmerized by the plight of Romanian children on the TV news, Ann-Margret and Jay O. Sanders suffer from characterizations so one-dimensional they are almost stick figures. More interesting is a complex French female doctor (Dominique Sanda) who helps Ann-Margret’s heroine outwit Romanian bureaucracy and mind-numbing obstacles in her fight to adopt two children and bring them to the U.S.
Visually, the production, set against the lingering backdrop of Bucharest’s dreaded secret police,
the Securitate, reaps nice physical benefits from its location shoot and Romanian production members. Also, emotionally speaking, the babies’ peril in the script by Petru Popescu and Iris Friedman is impossible to brush off, however routine the execution.
Revealing shots of the capital’s forbidding streets filled with tumultuous revolutionary youth and an angry body politic contrast with eerie glass-lined bays of orphanage cribs and a bucolic Romanian countryside where “unsalvageable” children — those deemed mentally or physically undeveloped — squirm in squalor with the flies and cockroaches.
Except for the two featured children that the American couple are trying to adopt, children depicted in the misery-laden state institutions are real Romanian fledglings, victims of Ceausescu’s deadly regime, where children were abandoned by families because of poverty, hunger and illness.