A series of emotional shocks drive an elderly man to the point of madness in “Niki and Flo,” an understated character study from Romanian veteran Lucian Pintile. Made on a modest scale, film slowly creeps up on the sympathetic viewer with its story about the increasingly stressed-out life of its protagonist. The shocking conclusion will provoke debate. Very well acted, pic has quite good arthouse chances in Europe, where the director has a reputation, but will be more difficult to place elsewhere. Quality TV networks undeterred by male/female nude scenes should want to program this quality item.
Retired army officer Niki Ardelean lives quietly in a small Bucharest apartment with his ailing wife, Poucha (Coca Bloos), his bright-as-a-button daughter Angela (Dorina Chiriac) and her new husband Eugen Tufaru (Serban Pavlu). Angela is pregnant, but Niki’s excitement is dulled by the fact the young couple is planning to leave Romania and live in the U.S.
The film is divided into chapters, each given a specific date. Niki and his family are initially introduced in April 2001 at the wake and funeral of his son, Mihai (Marius Galea), who was killed in a freak accident. He leaves behind a grieving young widow, Irina (Andreea Bibiri).
Angela’s husband Eugen is the son of Niki’s neighbor and friend Florian (Razvan Vasilescu). Florian is a bohemian with a 1970s mindset, a vegetarian and a know-it-all.
The two friends couldn’t be more different, and, currently, Niki is upset that Flo has encouraged Eugen and Angela to leave the country and start a new life in America. Flo, however, is impervious to his friend’s feelings.
As the weeks go by, events conspire to unsettle Niki even more. He’s worried about his wife’s health, and 9/11 adds to his state of unease. When Flo drives the young couple to the airport, Niki collapses on the sidewalk outside his house.
He recovers quickly, but matters come to a head in October, on National Army Day, when Niki finally decides he has had enough.
The main strengths of this disturbing little film are the performances of Rebengiuc, as the increasingly tormented Niki, and Vasilescu as the good-natured but bossy Flo. Pintile and the actors subtly probe beneath the surface to explore the friendship’s darker realities.
Supporting players are all good, and the film is quite professionally made though some of the scenes are a bit static. One unexpected element is the unselfconscious nudity in some scenes, especially one in which a post-coital Angela and Eugen carry on a long conversation and examine one another’s genitalia.