An American professor travels to the old country to learn about his past in Lucian Georgescu’s flat feature debut, “The Phantom Father.” Loosely based on writer Barry Gifford’s family history (he also co-scripts and makes a brief appearance), the pic is hobbled by a weak screenplay that too often caves in to stereotypes without offering much in return. Mihaela Sirbu’s standout perf makes the journey worthwhile, but aside from a smattering of Jewish fests, this “Phantom” is unlikely to haunt offshore screens.
Though his dean (Gifford) tries to dissuade him, Robert Traum (Marcel Iures, incongruously sporting an English rather than Chicago accent) goes to Romania’s Bukovina province to find answers about his father and uncle before the upheavals of WWII. He gets assistance from flinty local archivist Tanya (Sirbu), and together they track down Sami Grinberg (Valer Dellakeza), a former cinema proprietor and old friend of the Traums who holds the key to the family legacy. Only Tanya’s character feels fully thought out; the supposedly cultivated professor is a rube unable to make auds feel invested in his journey. A dream sequence is especially misplaced, but lensing is solid.