A young TV reporter pursues an elusive homeless man who once was a political prisoner in Siberia in “The Pharaoh.” Romanian helmer Sinisa Dragin follows up his ironic “Every Day God Kisses Us on the Mouth” with a less pulled-together work that seems more concerned with personal issues and technical experimentation than narrative, to the point of being a bit incoherent. Jumbling fiction and documentary images of the new Romania, pic creates a complex texture but offers the viewer few signposts to maneuver through it. This puzzling film is unlikely to travel much beyond fests.
Lively interviews with people on the street show their woeful ignorance of the Egyptian pharaohs; by extension, Dragin seems to imply, they probably won’t remember the horrors of the Communist regime for long, either. “Pharaoh” happens to be the nickname of Costache Nicolau (Stefan Iordache), a mentally unbalanced old-timer who has lost the memory of his own life.
Adriana Buto throws herself into the familiar role of an attractive, eager-beaver reporter bent on uncovering truth of some kind, though why Nicolau fascinates her so is a mystery. Her investigations unearth an aged actress (Olga Tudorache) who may have been his lover, and an old Hungarian cellmate from his Siberia days. She brings them together in the studio in a mocking send-up of TV reunion shows.
Set between Christmas and Easter, the film documents the resurgence of religious rites in the country, without explaining why. Apparently people’s historical memory has not completely died out, or it is kept alive by traditions of this kind.
Tech work is varied, though why the film keeps changing from color to black-and-white is another enigma. A non-linear soundtrack, often deviating from the images onscreen, offers an interesting counterpoint.