Paul Negoescu realized he hit the jackpot with “Two Lottery Tickets,” the low-budget comedy he shot for around €30,000 ($35,000) which – to the surprise of everyone, including the director himself – would become the top-grossing Romanian film of 2016, raking in €540,000 ($630,000) at the box office.
But for a helmer whose first feature, “A Month in Thailand,” screened in the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, a breakout, box-office hit didn’t change expectations for his third movie, “The Story of a Summer Lover,” which world premiered in the Transilvania Intl. Film Festival May 31.
“It’s a different film,” says Negoescu, calling “Summer Lover” a “personal story” that he suspects will appeal to a smaller, niche audience. Modest ambitions aside, the movie is bound to generate buzz off of Negoescu’s earlier successes; even if it can’t match “Lottery’s” big payout, “people will hear about this film, for sure,” he says.
The eponymous anti-hero of “Summer Lover” is the philandering Petru, an adjunct math professor who splits moral hairs with mathematical precision when he justifies bedding co-eds half his age. (They’re not his students, he insists.) Content to continue reaping the benefits of an open relationship, his endless summer comes to a jarring end when his girlfriend suddenly announces she’s pregnant. Faced with the prospect of commitment, Petru can’t quiet his doubts any more than he can silence the troublesome pigeons nesting in the rafters of his bachelor pad.
Though Negoescu’s original screenplay mined that unexpected pregnancy for all its dramatic worth, script doctor Jacques Akchoti steered him toward comedy instead, during workshops at the Jerusalem-based Sam Spiegel Intl. Film Lab. Studying the filmography of Woody Allen, Negoescu soon found himself channeling the neurotic protagonists of the director’s early works, casting Alexandru Papadopol – star and co-producer of “Lottery” – as Petru, a “hypochondriac, paranoiac [who’s] questioning everything around him.
“I never thought I could make a film in [Allen’s] style,” Negoescu says, although he’d always admired the director’s movies. “[‘Summer Lover’] is not only inspired by Woody Allen’s films, but it’s an homage to him.”
Cue the horns. Just as George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” announces the opening montage of “Manhattan,” “Summer Lover” swells with the musical arrangements of composer Hristo Namliev, who reworked the popular songs of the early-20th-century musician Titi Botez. While the “foot loose and fancy free” lover of the titular song describes the bed-hopping Petru to a tee, Namliev’s score is also the perfect musical accompaniment for what Negoescu describes as “a very romanticized version of Bucharest.”
It’s a flight of fancy that should play well with Romanian audiences accustomed to seeing a more dour vision of the capital onscreen: even a fledgling post-Communist state has room for swanky bars and bistros alongside its Soviet-era office blocks and hospital wards. Negoescu credits the unfussy, unpretentious style of “Lottery” for its great success, a sentiment echoed by Petru in “Summer Lover’s” opening scene, when he protests to his friends, “People won’t pay for what they can’t understand.” Even Shakespeare, he notes, “wrote simple stories for regular people. Boy loves girl—conflict.”
Rendered with all the certainty of a mathematical proof, it’s a formula that Negoescu follows to the letter, even if he insists his crowd-pleaser stems from deeper artistic convictions.
“If you want to make a success, you don’t need to think about what the audience would like to see,” he says. “If you’re true and honest in your intentions…then your film will be liked by the audience, too.”