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"California Dreamin' (Nesfarsit)" is one of the finest movies Romanian
cinema has ever produced. While the unfortunate death of young director
Cristian Nemescu left the film unfinished, the movie has been put
together according to Mr. Nemescu's plans.
There are many layers of discourse in this movie that develop as main lines of the narrative - on one hand, there is a sad, cynical, and auto-meditative look at the Romanian society in its purest, unaltered form; on the other hand, the movie speaks of the obsession of a generation of Romanians, that have been waiting for the Americans to liberate them ever since the Second World War; when those two lines meet, incredible things happen; and last, but not least, it shows the personal development of a few characters that are very relevant for Romanians today.
Being a Romanian, I don't usually like Romanian films - many of them are irrelevant, are exorcising demons that have no relevance for us today (like "12:08 Bucharest"); but Cristian Nemescu's California Dreamin' (Unfinished) is furiously funny, outrageously cruel, infinitely critical of Romania and Romanians, and it manages that by simply showing the facts, and not making one personal interpretation.
A brilliant movie done by a great movie maker. May we all remember Cristi forever.
It's always touchy to look and judge unfinished work. Nemescu's death
was perhaps one of the cruelest things to have happened in 2006 (a year
of sufficient cruelty), as it always is when young, talented people
fade out too quickly. Yet, in watching "California Dreamin'" I cannot
but accept the fact that this may not have been the director's final
vision, while still going on to comment on the things I saw and felt.
What might have been, what could have been - these are things of the
past. We have to enjoy "California Dreamin'" for what it is and judge
The story of Capalnita is a sad one, as it is the story of many parts of Romania, a country in desperate need to be seen and heard. While the movie takes place on a more personal level, the allusion is inescapable, as are quite a few other things about life around here.
The main plot revolves around a NATO transport sent to Kosovo by train, which is stopped in - literally - the middle of nowhere, by a station conductor who claims he wants to see the transit papers for whatever is being transported. As these documents are missing, he decides to pull the train over until the necessary papers come through. The convoy's American forces accept this delay grudgingly, but they quickly join the celebrations held in their honor by a mayor who sees profit opportunities in the unexpected turn of events. Soldiers get together with local girls, love and sex stories unfold, with no actual surprises to the mature mind. In the mix is a young local boy, head over heels in love with the most attractive girl from the village - a common story of shyness and deep affection. As the delays pile on, spirits start rising and the situation gets more and more tense - especially as the American commanding officer, Captain Jones (Armand Assante), grows wearingly restless. The outcome of the story is for you to relish or despise, but at two and a half hours, you'll have to be patient.
The film's length is, I'm sorry to say, unjustified and the story drags you along in something that resembles agony more than joy. Also, structure and style tend do be more conventional than not. Yet, there are many beautiful moments to be had, many moments which reflect a desperate world, moments with universal validity on both social and personal levels. The characters themselves are quite intriguing at first (as is the whole movie, for around sixty minutes) but they start wearing off towards the end, plagued by what I found to be strange inconsistencies - or plainly a raw denouement to the picture. There is something subtle, something beyond the obvious realm of the film that quietly unfolds, a story of immense sadness, a story that reflects exactly how diseased modern society is, with an emphasis on Romanian problems that have shaped the late 20th century for all the people living there. However, the humanity which lies behind these unobtrusive connections knows no boundaries of land and nationality. The problem I saw myself faced with was that the film did not clearly focus on its direction(s), and despite its unsympathetic running time, it still rushed a half-fabricated end - which I found to be a serious letdown. All in all though, the underlying message is clear and sensible: there will be no Americans (or any "others") to come and save us, we need to find the resources ourselves to deal with life as it as and as we've made it be.
Armand Assante plays it straight all the way, the tough guy trying hard to keep calm in a situation which defies his notions of bureaucracy and efficiency. The lack of response from Romanian authorities was - to my mind - completely unimaginable to a foreign army man, yet the usual resourcefulness of American imagination clears the way for a solution. While I found it disturbing and unsatisfactory, it is for you to judge its validity. Charming as she was (and always is), Maria Dinulescu portrays a character so typical and so unbelievable that it is hard to truly feel for her fate, as ultimately is the problem of almost the whole of Capalnita. Despite the fact that the film very accurately (and often amusingly) portrays the underpinnings of Romanian hospitality, this effect wears off about halfway through the film - as I've already mentioned.
So how valuable a film is "California Dreamin'" and did it deserve a win at the Cannes? Well, it is a film which could have been good - even very good - had Nemescu had time to round it all off, but as such it is more of a long and unsatisfactory ride through the mysterious world of a tiny town at the outskirts of Bucharest. There's a lot of stuff there you can enjoy, a lot of sad truths and a great central character in the person of Doiaru, but the final impression is weak and underplays the film's potential. Yet...we live with what we have.
In artistic terms the movie is great. The story is superb, the acting is excellent too. Nevertheless there is an issue that should be taken into account when a director decides to make a movie with an eastern European setting. Films like the ones directed by Emir Kusturica or Nae Caranfil and now by Nemescu reveal and insist on revealing only one side of the Balkans. This facet is often exaggerated for artistic purposes and while it identifies the Balkans in certain aspects, it can also be very hazardous on the longer term. The Romanian, Serbian or Bulgarian societies are certainly more complex than the instances and the characters depicted in "White cat, black cat", "Philantropica" or "California Dreamin'". This picturesque facet constantly addressed by film makers represents a reality of the region but should not be generalized. This is the hazard of making such movies. Westerners and Americans, not very accustomed to the history and the society of the Eastern Europe might reduce them to this narrow view: gypsies, easy and shallow girls, the general poverty and corruption and a scene populated by low-lifes and scums. Everyone seeing this film should enjoy it for what it is, but should also keep in mind that, although true at a certain level, Romania means more than that.
This movie is definitely in my Top-5 of 2007, along with "The life of
It's just amazing to see how creative artists from Romania and the Balkans can be. The humor and general spirit of this movie reminds me a lot of Emir Kusturica's talent.
Too sad the director died a year ago in a car crash, 28 year old only.
Obviously, the best flicks don't come from Hollywood lately. Wanna know why ? It's because foreign movies are not ruled by profit-only oriented producers.
It's about "Art" first. Remember ?... Cinema is an art form, not just your regular supermarket product! That's why capitalism is (most often) incompatible with good movies.
With this movie, you'll get another proof confirming this theory.
I never wrote any review so far, but after reading the other comments I felt compelled to do it. First of all, you must understand this was a work in progress, the movie remained unfinished. To all the users that made negative comments I say to try not to feel directly involved and to give the movie a objective note. Yes, there are some stereotypes involved and people from the Western countries must realize this is not who we are, neither we, as Romanians, nor other Balkan nations. There were a lot of movies that had similar plots, like "La vita e bella" by Roberto Benigni. This is a movie about war and it must be judged this way. Try to get past the black screens, like some user complained about, not giving the movie a fair interpretation. Things like that MIGHT happen in the future, maybe this movie should be watched by our politicians, as I consider it as a satire. What stroked me the most was the the evolution of Assante's character, beautifully portrayed. Above all, I recommend this movie for those who are fed up with Hollywood's blockbusters and the "they lived happily ever after" movies. The world needs from time to time a pure dose of reality.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cannes 2007 was great for the Romanian cinema. While Cristian Mungiu's
'4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days' was collecting the 'Palme d'Or' another
Romanian movie was receiving the alternative 'Un Certain Regard' prize.
This was a debut big screen film but unfortunately also an and of
career film, as director Cristian Nemescu died in a car accident last
The story based on real events happens in the Wild East landscape of 1998 Romania, the period of transition, a time when everything can happen even in places where usually nothing happens. The main character named Doiaru is one of the dubious 'entrepeneurs' of the era, he is the chief of a railway station trying to get rich by almost openly stealing from the freight trains that pass through his station. He's the type of guy who doesn't miss an opportunity. When a military transport guarded by a small American unit on its way to the NATO war scene in Yugoslavia enters his fief he decides to stop it under the pretext that the transport misses the necessary paperwork. It is not clear why he is doing it, he does not accept bribes, he certainly is not a lawful citizen, and even politics do not seem to be his motivation. Maybe it's just personal, maybe he just wants to show he is in control. The result is that the American soldiers and their commanding officer captain Jones which had over-passed until then at modern vehicles speed all the horse-driven carriages of the Romanian peasants find themselves suddenly stuck as a situation that resembles some spaceship having landed on an unknown planet.
We know from flashback scenes run in parallel with the main action that Doiaru is the son in a family of the enemies of the former Communist rule, the type of guys who had been waiting for decades as most of the Romanian people for the West and especially from the Americans to come to their rescue. In one of the key scenes in the movie Doiaru tells Jones something like: 'We have been waiting for you since War War II. You did not come to rescue us from the Germans, you did not come to rescue us from the Russians, you did not come to rescue us from the communists and Ceausescu. Now you come?' Actually what is left to be saved in 1990 Romania? Maybe to save the Romanian from themselves seems to say the authors of the movie who are extremely critical about the state of the Romanian society represented by the village in the middle of nowhere. A society where corruption and demagogy seems to be the rule, which mimics democracy without understanding or practicing it, where even the dreams of the young seem to be corrupt.
The other question is whether the Americans can play the role of saviors. Doubful seems the film to be saying. For the majority of the movie the two groups cannot communicate one with the other and when they do they rather mis-communicate than communicate. If Romania and the West lost contact half a century ago re-connecting does not seem a simple task, as history has brought the two worlds not on parallel by remote and separate Universes. Even when commander Jones decides to do what to him looks like the right thing and takes part his decision is based on mis-communication and lack of understanding of the local culture and policy. The result is a disaster, people kill one another when the Americans leave, and those are not even aware about what happened as they have again mis-interpreted the shooting nosies and fireworks prepared by the local gangsters to hide the noise as something organized in their honor.
This is a complex movie that can be interpreted at different levels. At the political level it is a strong critic of the corruption and moral emptiness of the Romanian society and of the cultural insensitivity and lack of compassion of the West for the young nations in Eastern Europe, as well as a pessimistic view on chances of intervention. At a human level there is little compassion for any of the parts, maybe the young people are somehow looked at more sympathetically, their perspective also seems to be limited. The story telling is cursive, characters speak to us and actors really meld into the film. The best was for me Razvan Vasilescu, a genial actor who already made a few roles that describe best the character of the villains of the Romanian transition.
Cristian Nemescu could not finish the film, and the title bears a sign - 'nesfarsit' means literally 'not terminated' and 'endless' speaking figuratively. It does not look by any means as an unfinished piece of cinema, and I like to believe that the title rather symbols the permanence of what happens in the movie, the need to recognize that building a sound future cannot be done without acknowledging what happened in the past.
It's funny how similar are all the comments posted by the Romanian
viewers. The first time I saw the movie I thought "God, is it possible
to never forget such a sad existence? Such a bitter-sweet look upon our
life? The so-called *balkanism*?..." Do we ever make a jump, like a
time-lap, and have different views on what do we do every day?
Further more beyond the "national sport" (as someone once called it) of self-complaining lies the truth. A certain truth that hurts. We can all see the progress of the Romanian society; we think that the rest of the world doesn't. We point the finger on "the other side" or "the good side", so there shall be no mistakes... Well, I've been once in Capalnita, and I had a shock because after seeing this movie I realized it's all there! There's no need for sets, there's no need for trained actors... The grass still grows between the pieces of the sidewalk in the railroad station... Only today's mobile phones and the car models have changed.
Why should a film director make a "more expensive film" or a "non-low-budget" one? Do you really care about how much did it cost? Or, should really be the film an accurate projection of the real life? Was it ever so? No matter what good or wrong you you'll see in the recent Romanian society, there are certain people living in this country who can make genuine art. And finishing a work of art is utopia.
I couldn't avoid to observe Nemescu's care for details and real life like shots. Many excellent Romanian film directors tend to have a keen sense for the dynamism of the short takes by "wearing" the camera like a peer of glasses. No soundtrack is needed except the music within the scene. In the most cases the human eye concentrates on human subjects just like Nemescu's lens did in this masterpiece (from normal to long focal lens, say 85mm or even more than 200mm in some cases). One surrealist shot (with the "Romanian-made" Efel tower) caught my attention as an exception. No image stabilizer is needed when you make a non-commercial movie. On the contrary! Usually, in a very dynamic scene -like a fight- your eye captures only bits of shocking details, cause you're frightened. Complementary artificial lighting is quite moderate if not absent. Sure, this version of the displayed picture needed further cuts and refinements. And this is not because the picture is "too long". That's Hollywood's paradigm, cause art in general doesn't deal with units of measurement. Strangely as it seems for the "outsiders", for those who consider the play of the actors and the action are overreacted, this film can generate pure emotions, antipodes, anger, hope, deliverance, fervour, grace... And this is the main purpose of the 7-th art.
Yes, it's a great movie, even if it's unfortunately unfinished; like an unexploded bomb in the Romanian consciousness... But is there anything "finished" or it has ever been something really "finished" in our country, Romania? Maybe Cristian Nemescu new why it's "endless".
Cristian Nemescu's Cannes award wining movie, California Dreaming manages to exceptionally underline the issue of globalization, bureaucracy, the international image of the United States and it's actions, opportunism; also some of the bitter realities of Romanian administration, politics, mentality and the servility regarding foreigners that is found in this country way of thinking; everything is spinning around an old local obsession from 1944 when all of Romania was waiting for the US Forces to arrive and liberate it from the occupants; the viewer is surprised several times by different cues(lines) that are more or less subtle and what is impressive is that with only one phrase some of the characters manage to create powerful images and scenes. The arrival of the Americans in the Capalnita Village it is seen by locals as a unique chance to live a better life and in their attempt to distinguish themselves, the villagers become capable to give rise to amazing actions never seen before in the community even though in the end all becomes so very ridiculous and ironically for both of the sides(the US Marines and the Romanians)but for different reasons: the Americans because of their unstoppable urge to leave and being stuck in the middle of nowhere and the villagers for their desire to lure and impress the new arrived guests. Another thing to remind is the brilliant black and white scenes mixed in the movie, which present a story from The Second World War, aspects which are essential for the viewer to understand the mentality of one of the most important character named Doianu, the one who actually starts the main plot. The overall impression is that of a movie with a great script, very well played, fascinating situations, but above all so very exceptional directed.
I think this movie expresses very well the mixture of feeling the Romanians always had for Americans: "hatred" because they didn't save us in the WW2 (topic presented in the movie as a "remember", for which full understanding i recommend that previously you read a bit of WW2 history), "fascination" - from the Romanian girls, because American soldiers are considered handsome, and as being a way for escape from a possibly unhappy life, "business interest" - from officials, because they could invest money and help the local communities to develop. Different people with different expectations from the same Americans. All these aspects are presented wonderfully by Nemescu, telling our story as Romanians, to the entire world. To understand this "story", you have to be interested in it, otherwise...you might not understand the movie.
All of us, when tired, look for an easy and full of fun or action movie in a Hollywood style. However, once in a while, sooner rather than later, is not bad watching a movie that makes us use a little our brain in conjunction with our emotions. California Dreamin' is such a movie. First of all, you must take into account that this movie was not post-processed almost at all due to the tragically death of its director. It is useless to think how it would have been looked if it was finished by Nemescu. We have to look at it as it is. Even like this, movie was brilliantly directed making me remember of Antonioni's Blow-Out. Lots of people would not like it because it shows too much poverty or does not show all aspects of Balkan's life or just because is not a Hollywood movie. Let's be straight, no movie gives you a panorama about a region's life, for this you should watch News or read magazines. Movies give you a vision built by a group of people starting with the screenwriter and ending with its director. You may agree with it or not but this is not important. Important is if after a while it makes you think and if it does the movie was not useless. Others didn't like the movie being ambiguous but they forget that this is an art movie which is not giving you solutions, but based on presented facts you have to find the answers by yourself and no wonder if each person will find different conclusions because after all we are different from each other. Or this is the greatest merit of this movie: makes you think about a lot of things among which why life is so hard when can be easier. Obviously this movie was a hard option for Nemescu but eventually because of this option it is his postmortem triumph. In the end, this movie is not an image of Balkans but an image which can be applied to 80% of this world. The feelings and emotions included in it can be applied to 100% of this world. It is tragic Nemescu died after his first movie, but it is fortunate he left as legacy such a movie rather than a regular "big hit".
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