Keswick Film Club - Reviews - California Dreamin'

Reviews - California Dreamin'

California Dreamin'

Reviewed By John Stakes

California Dreamin'
California Dreamin'
The title to last Sunday’s engrossing film comes from an old Mammas and Pappas song and conjures up thoughts of sun kissed beaches and, in the world of cinema, yet another Hollywood fodder filled rom-com for the under seventeen. What we were treated to was the first which also turned out to be the last feature film by young Romanian Director Cristian Nemescu (who, together with his sound editor, were killed in a car crash before the film went into its post production stage) and was set in the small godforsaken village of Capalnita on the flood plain of the Danube on the rail line to Bucharest.

The film is based on a true story. It is 1999 and US marine captain Jones (Armand Assante) is assigned to escort a train carrying NATO radar equipment to Yugoslavia just before the end of the war in Kosovo. Local station master Doiaru (Razvan Vasilescu) has one official and two personal reasons to detain the train which unfold during the captivating two and a half hours running time of the film.

In a succession of amusing and unhurried scenes we witnessed the effect of the train’s arrival and the village’s hospitality on the captain and his and the local Romanian troops. The mayor in particular, attracted by publicity and all things American, decides to party and revives the village’s centenary celebrations held but one month earlier to which the visitors are invited. In the twinkling of an eye the soldiers are in amongst the women who are no less eager to become acquainted and to spice up their otherwise dull lives. No one is more eager than Doiaru’s sexy daughter Monica (Maria Dinulescu) a bored teenager who is instantly attracted to the handsome Sgt McLaren (Jamie Elman). Monica’s inability to speak English is no bar to her ability to communicate in all other respects and, as she is turning his lights on, their coupling causes the lights to go off all the way to Bucharest. Monica is spurred on by this to learn English which leads eventually to her split from her domineering father and, somewhat ironically, to reach Bucharest to attend college.

The wry observational comedy of the greater part of the film gradually gives way to a dose of reality as local wounds open up and the American dream begins to fade. Whilst the mayor continues to party Doiaru persists in refusing to let the train leave without the official paperwork. Doiaru’s obstinacy is explained by the fact that he dislikes Americans for their failure to liberate Yugoslavia after WW2 and reunite him with his parents. He also indulges in filching merchandise from passing trains and rules the local economy. As a result Doiaru causes his own downfall because the delay leads Captain Jones to take matters into his own hands. In so doing Jones displays his failure to understand anything of the local politics. His rousing outburst is seized upon by a disaffected bunch of workers from the local ball-bearing factory who take to the streets and Doiaru is killed just as the Americans are leaving.

Nemescu’s feature debut showed huge promise now destined never to be fulfilled. His flashbacks to Doiaru’s war time childhood shot in black and white were chillingly effective. His perceptive hand-held camera work faithfully captured the pace of rural village life particularly in the early scenes whilst maintaining our interest at the developing interplay between locals and the troops. It was a pleasure to linger. Perhaps the Keswickian environment as distinct from the clatter that is city life equips its residents to better appreciate the nuances of rural life elsewhere. Or is it the skill of native directors? At any rate for this reviewer the film did not require any post production editing. .

The acting was uniformly good and it was no surprise to learn that the film gathered a clutch of awards at film festivals around Europe last year including Cannes. The audience at the Alhambra clearly enjoyed it.

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19th Keswick Film Festival

22nd-25th February 2018


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