Inexperienced prosecutor Dumitri Costa (Razvan Vasilescu) is called to investigate the unexplained death of a coal miner; topographer Alina (Cecilia Barbora) is assigned to assist him.
On his first visit to the mines, Costa discovers them to be poorly maintained and unsafe. Complaining about the situation, he gets his first taste of indifference and lack of cooperation from the mine’s administrators.
TX:An MKL MK2 Diffusion release (in France) of an MK2 Prods./Cinema Studio of the Ministry of Culture (Romania)/La Sept Cinema production with the participation of Canal Plus , French Ministry of Culture, Centre National de la Cinematographie, Filmex Romania. (International sales: MK2 Diffusion, Paris.) Produced by Marin Karmitz, Veronique Cayla. Executive producer, Constantin Popescu. TX:Directed by Lucian Pintilie. Screenplay, Pintilie, Rasvan Popescu, based on Popescu’s novel. Just as Costa and Alina are becoming sexually acquainted, another miner is discovered dead in a section that’s been closed for years. Costa’s questions and his unsettling influence on the miners anger the authorities, who prefer to pursue capitalist gains and not worry about danger to workers. The miners themselves fear the publicity may shut down their only source of work.
Victims keep dropping and Costa receives threats. He sees footage of an earlier workers protest and identifies a miner, previously involved with Alina, who has since disappeared. Concluding that the man must be living in the shafts, stealing food and surviving on bare essentials, Costa turns off the power in the mines to flush him out.
While the story contains all the elements of a solid thriller intelligently grounded in political and moral issues, Pintilie’s handling is lifeless and unsophisticated.
He and co-scripter Rasvan Popescu (on whose novel the film is based) examine the new system’s sole concern with economic gain and its view of workers as automatons — a regime as ruthless, in its way, as the old one. As indicated by the pic’s title, the pessimistic view advocates an escape to the West as the remaining alternative.
But many of the complex subtexts are impenetrable. Equally unclear is the meaning behind ironic touches, such as a string quartet performing for the miners, or a wedding taking place as soldiers close in on the murderer.
Western audiences will find the sexual politics in the treatment of the Alina character excruciatingly outmoded. Technically, the pic is purely functional.