Mon 14 Oct 2013
‘Somewhere in Palilula’ has managed to divide in camps not only film critics but also my friends who have seen it. Reactions ranged from enthusiastic acceptance till total rejection. In Romania it apparently had a fairly short career on screen and then disappeared to re-appear in festivals and at the Gopo Awards ceremony, where it received seven awards. With a little help from friends I managed to see the DVD version that was recently released and I formed an opinion of my own.
One of the Romanian film critics (I think it was the late Alex Leo Serban but I am not not sure) said that there are two main trends in the Romanian cinema today. One is composed of the so-called ‘ Romanian new wave ‘ films that deal with past or present Romania, describing bits of life in a minimalist style sometimes combined with a cruel realism, and leaving Romanian viewers to discern beyond familiar images and characters the meanings or the messages. With films like ’4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days ‘, ‘The Death of Mr. Lazarescu’ or the recent ‘Child Position‘ this current succeeded nicely at international festivals . The second trend addresses reality and history through personal directorial visions, which in turn draw their inspiration from classic Romanian literature starting from the two Caragiales. Characters represent extrapolations of reality and of their own selves, and the stories often end in apocalypse. These films recorded fewer public or critic successes, the most representative production before this film is California Dreamin’ by Cristian Nemescu.
With ‘Somewhere in Palilula’ the second trend has now its first remarkable peak.
Having left Romania for almost 30 years I have not had the opportunity to see anything directed by Silviu Purcarete on stage during this time and I had to settle with two operas directed by him at famous house operas. I know that he is one of the major Romanian theater directors of today, and I know that he has created a world of his own with imagery, colors, characters and multiple dimensions. Somewhere in Palilula is his first film and his invented world extends from stage to screen with the tools and means of expression of cinema.
Of course, the greatest danger of such an artistic enterprise is ‘ theatricality ‘. It is however a danger only to the extent that the edge of the stage is visible in the movie, and the film misses the relationship between what is taking place on screen and cinema viewers. Theater drives its magic out of the intimacy of the relationship between actor and spectator, the ineffable and imperfect timing, the air and dust that spectators and actors breathe together. Those cannot be reproduced in film, where the viewer must be charmed by the impossible and the ideal created for him on screen. To a great extent Purcarete manages to create the magnetism that makes film viewers to watch fascinated what is happening on the big screen and forget that the media has only two dimensions (even in 3-D the third dimension is an illusion created by special spectacles!).
Purcarete invented almost none of these. Theater (or circus) is the world at Fellini, a universe in a studio theater was already created by Charlie Kaufman in ‘Synechdoche, New York’ and the beginning of the film with the locomotive in snow entering something that resembles another dimension reminded me of the first episode of Harry Potter. But the principal inspiration is my opinion the genial Romanian playright I.L. Caragiale, the mentor of all creators who dare to describe the Romanian universe with the weapons of humor. We can find in this movie dozens, maybe hundreds of replicas of those that are remembered later as worth an ‘anthology ‘ – but beyond the immediate laughs which are not missing, these are the materials of which the world of Purcarete is build of.
I loved the film, the visual experience and the way Purcarete made me live for almost two hours and a half in his world. Trying to understand the reasons many did not like the movie, besides the banal ‘de gustibus … ‘ I guess that some of them could easily fall into the pitfalls of trying to understand what they see on the screen only through the historical context or may have attempted to immediately interpret all visual metaphors or ideas. Careful watching of the introduction, however, should deter somebody walking these tracks . The story of a young physician assigned to the countryside is perhaps inspired by the memoirs of a real person (one may remembers that Chekhov and Bulgakov were also countryside physicians) or all of real characters who lived similar experiences during communism, but the manner the main character is intr0duced, the landscape of the village that seems linked by uncertain roads to the world around, and the introduction of the other characters indicate clearly that this is a different reality – one that was absorbed by the writer director, decanted and recreated as reality into another dimension, with other colors and other tools than those of realistic image playback . There are many interesting and expressive metaphors, but one must avoid excessive interpretation in order to not spoil the viewing pleasure. A film like ‘ Somewhere in Palilula ‘ is the reflection of reality of a painful past and a huge metaphor containing in it a lot of other intelligent and meaningful metaphors, but before anything else it is an invitation to come and live for the duration of the screening in the world created by Silviu Purcarete .
I can not conclude without saying a few words about the special effects, set design and costumes that reach a level in my opinion unique so far in Romanian cinema. It was a movie that solicited to the extreme the team of actors, each of them managing to create expressive and colorful characters that take their place and become part of the universe created by the director. I will mention only that Aron Dimeny has the physiognomy and expressiveness fit to the lead role, and George Mihaita who at his peak performed here a remarkable role at the other pole than another big film role in the history of Romanian cinema – ‘Reconstitution’ by Lucian Pintilie. Pintilie is the co-producer on Somewhere in Palilula. Which closes another circle .