Adrian Sitaru’s “Fixer” features the now-classic elements of New Romanian Cinema: It eventually arrives at an emotionally potent treatment of larger issues via a seemingly casual narrative, a coolly observational tenor and close attention to unexpected detail. Here, an aspiring Romanian journalist working as a go-between for a foreign outlet finds himself on ethically questionable turf as he pursues access to a local girl rescued from an international sex-trafficking ring. This arresting, ambivalent drama should travel widely on the festival circuit, with potential for limited offshore commercial sales.

Radu (Tudor Aaron Istodor) is a much-relied-upon employee at the Bucharest office of a French TV news network. But he’s officially still a trainee, anxious to prove himself in hopes of scoring a “real” job. To that end, he pulls every string possible to get his employers an interview with one of two underage Romanian girls who were abducted, transported to France, then forced into prostitution before they were found by authorities. Public curiosity is insatiable for such lurid stories, now sadly common in Europe — so Radu’s being able to orchestrate face-time with the repatriated Anca would be a personal coup of great value to his career.

Anca is currently in hiding, however, and intermediaries strongly suggest she has no desire to cooperate with the media. Radu refuses to give up, however, eventually having two French journos Axel (Mehdi Nebbou) and Serge (Nicolas Wanczycki) fly in for a road trip to the provincial town where their quarry has found sanctuary at a nunnery.

The abbess there is adamant about preventing the men from speaking to Anca (Diana Spatarescu), saying the girl is still far too traumatized — as well as being in danger from her former captors should she make public statements. (Some affiliated goons duly turn up in an attempt to intimidate all concerned.) Still, Radu’s colleagues won’t take no for an answer, counting on him to circumvent all obstacles and set up a taped interview with the victim.

The moral quagmire here makes itself apparent in numerous ways, most notably in the press representatives’ constant, self-righteous insistence that they must air “the truth” when it’s really ratings they’re after. A discomfiting sense of complicity in the exploitation of the innocent, particularly for Radu, grows stronger as the interview becomes more likely. There’s a satisfying denouement that brings things full-circle back home, where our protagonist’s seemingly irrelevant fixation on the competitive swimming of his lover’s young son provides a wordless emotional payoff.

Claudia Silisteanu and Adrian Silisteanu’s astute screenplay unfolds with few predictable notes, providing some striking sequences, such as an invasive visit to Anca’s bewildered mother and an evening of incongruous drunken fun at a local restaurant. The prolific Sitaru’s fourth theatrical feature (he’s also done numerous shorts and TV episodes/movies) is finely judged in its naturalistic portrayal of a fast-moving narrative that feels almost random as it proceeds, yet inevitable at its close. The packaging is first-rate, with the docudrama feel underlined by both fine widescreen imagery by d.p. Adrian Silisteanu and a lack of musical scoring.

Film Review: ‘Fixer’

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 9, 2016. Running time: <strong>99 MIN.</strong> (Original language title: "Fixeur")

  • Production: (Romania-France) A 4 Proof Film/Petit Film production. (International sales: MPM Film, Paris.) Producers: Anamaria Antoci, Adrian Silisteanu. Co-producer: Jean des Forêts.
  • Crew: Director: Adrian Sitaru. Screenplay: Claudia Silisteanu, Adrian Silisteanu. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Adrian Silisteanu. Editor: Mircea Olteanu.
  • With: Tudor Aaron Istodor, Mehdi Nebbou, Nicolas Wanczycki, Diana Spatarescu, Adrian Titieni. (Romanian, French dialogue)
  • Music By: