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Un saltimbanc la Polul Nord (1984)
An Enchanting Family Adventure
In turn-of-the-century Romania, the Marcelloni family and their performing polar bear, Fram, are the stars of the Siboli Circus. The scheming circus owner and his elephant-riding mistress look to gain the limelight for themselves, but the low wages, squalid living conditions and an unhappy bear lead the family to strike out on their own. The traveling show - the titular arctic-themed Circus of the North Pole - is a hit in the great cities of Europe. Triumphantly returning home, the Marcelloni's refuse offers from Siboli and others to re-join the company, and plan an even greater spectacle in the Romanian city of Iasi. On the eve of the premiere, Siboli's agents steal Fram, but the bear outwits his captors and cages them before showing up at the last minute to save the show. The excitement is too much for the family patriarch, however, and in one of the film's many touching moments the ringmaster/clown dies as the audience laughs and applauds. Young Joe and sister Fanny are devastated, but choose to continue the show together. Over time Joe grows to become a bitter, disillusioned young man. (A series of lap dissolves as Joe removes his clown make-up and ages 10 years is done very effectively.) The brother and sister decide it's time to give up circus life, and Fanny entrusts Fram to an arctic exploration team to return him to the wild. In a particularly lavish sequence, the bear is released at the Pole, though his years as an entertainer apparently prompt him to return to his circus wagon cage each night to sleep. The years pass and, reading a newspaper article about the appearance of aurora borealis at the North Pole, Joe and Fanny decide to visit with the hope of catching a glimpse of their old circus friend. Joe and his guide become lost in a blizzard, but are found and rescued by Fram. The native inhabitants of the arctic circle find the trained polar bear amazing, and Joe and Fanny seem to have found a whole new appreciative audience for A Circus of the North Pole.
Cezar Petrescu's novel, `Fram the Polar Bear,' had previously been adapted as a stage play, but award-winning Romanian family filmmaker Elisabeta Bostan took the tale one step further and expanded upon the original work into two films, Saltimbancii (1981) and Un saltimbanc la podul nord (1982). While most of Bostan's previous films had been firmly set in the world of fantasy, her first foray into a realistic setting was successful enough to generate this sequel. The director's talent for getting marvelous performances from children is evident here, as is her affection for animals and toe-tapping musical numbers, here in the context of a circus show. The widescreen cinematography (two directors of photography are credited) is well-composed and colorful, and the art direction is superb.
Un saltimbanc la polul nord and its predecessor were re-edited into a television series entitled `Fram' (1983); six thirty-minute episodes for broadcast around Europe. The delighted audience of young children at this March 2004 screening should hopefully inspire someone give this film and others in this genre a release on home video.
Moartea lui Joe Indianul (1968)
Interesting Take on an American Classic
Released in Romanian cinemas two weeks after Aventurile lui Tom Sawyer (1968), Moartea lui Joe Indianul is the second chapter of this Franco/German/ Romanian serial. This feature, as well as its predecessor, are as liberally adapted from Mark Twain's source materials in some places as they are faithful in others. Filmed in the Galati region of Romania and re-located to the old west town of St. Petersburg, the familiar story was shot with a predominantly Romanian and French cast and dubbed into the local language wherever it was released (in cinemas in some regions, on television in others).
The film is somewhat episodic, an understandable by-product of it having been shot primarily to be seen as four 90-minute installments of a serial. In the first half of the feature, Tom and Huck ("Hucki" in this version) witness Injun Joe rob and kill a traveler, and come to the defense of the wrongly-accused town drunk. The second, more engaging portion of the story, centers around Tom and Becky Thatcher discovering Injun Joe's treasure stash while lost inside a deep system of caverns. Tom and Huck return the loot to the grateful townspeople, and Injun Joe meets his fate when his partners in crime come for their share. Production value is adequate, though noticeably low budget (lots of people wear holsters without guns) and the picture is rife with continuity errors. The score by Vladimir Cosma is quite pleasant.
This film, as well as Aventurile lui Tom Sawyer, played in a retrospective of Romanian children's films in Bucharest in November 2003. The appreciative audience was made up mostly of pre-teens and their thirty- and forty-something parents who remembered the film fondly from their own childhoods.