User ReviewsReview this title
You should do what I did and see for yourself. And maybe you will hate it, or, like myself, will leave the movie theater filled with questions, feelings and an emotional conclusion. Yes, the one that you will not be able to articulate in words. And, after all, that conclusion is the only one I care about, every time I am watching a movie, read a novel or listen to a concert. It is all about that. What are you taking with you? What really matters to you? What will remain not after your life, but after your emotional journey? What are your memories made of?
After watching this movie, I couldn't even talk for a while. It felt like a powerful plow raked throughout the beaten ground of my own memories. Forgotten memories popped out, old feelings brought back to life, the smell of my grandfather's tobacco, the dust in the light of the attic in my childhood home, the river where I would go fishing with my father... Memories that I didn't even know I still have. How and why all of this happened, I don't know and it doesn't matter. But it was beautiful. And I will give it some time and I will go watch it again, maybe it will happen once more.
Play a piano in a barn and you will have a horrible result. Play the same piano in a concert hall and you will have a very different outcome. If you feel that you have the proper acoustic for this kind of movie, go watch it! You will resonate.
In a mood piece that says it is never too late to go home again, director Serge Ioan Celebidachi (Taming the Apex) has fashioned a contemplative, thoughtful picture charting mysterious, dual evocations of childhood and late-life, and how they are inextricably linked.
Picture opens when penniless Octav (Iures) regains possession of the pastoral country home of his youth, a longtime state-owned property, and returns to the countryside with the intention to quickly unload the property to new buyers. But the past, which comes flooding back, simply will not allow a speedy transaction.
Upon arriving at the remote manor, two ghosts of another time almost immediately return; one material, the other not. While Octav receives a warm welcome from caretaker Spiridon (the great Victor Rebengiuc), his adolescent confidant, he's surprised to be visited by the dream-like visage of a long-forgotten first love, Ana (Alessia Tofan), a vision of childhood innocence and invitation to return to a simpler time. For aging Octav, reconciliation is in order, but first he must revisit a handful of formative experiences.
These include the re-emergence of Octav's childhood band of friends, and sure-handed Celebidachi captures the games, routines and spirit of youthful zeal in a manner reminiscent of Bergman's classic FANNY & Alexander, delivering a portrait of childhood as an eternal playground, until it can no longer be. As it always is in classic period pieces, parental discord and the call of war are never far away, nor is loss of innocence.
That pivotal turning point arrives too soon with the untimely death of his beloved artist mother (Lia Bugnar), a celebrated painter, but not before she can imbue an important life lesson about the soul of an artist in a richly written scene suggesting a conversation Octav has attempted to make sense of across his long life.
Octav's father (Ioan Andrei Ionescu) is a notable pianist who treats both Octav and young Spiridon as equals in the house, an artist's enclave of sorts, complete with an elaborate music room adorned by string instruments. In a masterful late moment, father consoles son with a delicate monologue equating musical notes with the beats of a human life.
The poignant screenplay, co-written by James Olivier and Celebidachi, eschews traditional plotting and, like life, doesn't conform to the dictates of a three-act structure. Instead, it takes its time unfolding in unexpected ways, which include significant passages taking place inside Octav's memories and liberal crosscutting between eras, expertly woven by editor Mircea Olteanu. What Olivier and Celebidachi are getting at with OCTAV is the universal axiom that as far as we may go in life, we are defined by our early experiences and burying them, or perhaps moving past them, leaves us incomplete.
As Octav experiences sense memories and triggers—parental influences, lifelong friends, joys and sorrows—he arrives at scene of subtle truth, eloquently spoken in delicate scene of finality between adult and child. We can move forward, the screenplay tells us, but only if we know where we have been and what it has meant.
International star Iures, significantly aged for the role, has the challenging job of conveying Octav's inner life in the smallest of emotional beats. It is a quiet performance of subtle calibration and a less-is-more portrait giving voice to reflection and its relationship to wisdom gained. Watching Iures filter and re-filter Octav's life events in close-up is absorbing, and no easy task for any actor, delivering, in the smallest of expressions, the meaning of sometimes wordless scenes.
Executive producer Cristina Dobritoui and producer Adela Vrinceanu Celebidachi have mounted the handsome production in the sprawling Bucharest Film Studios and on location outside Câmpulung, near Romania's Carpathian Mountains. And while the picture largely confines the present-day action to Octav's home and its surrounding grounds, recesses of memory and imagination suggest a vastness to the environs.
And the great Italian DP Blasco Giurato's painterly 35mm compositions employ a shifting color palette evoking both the romance of adolescence and sobering realities of adulthood. Giruato, who knows a thing or two about rendering idyllic childhoods on screen (he lensed the Oscar-winning CINEMA PARADISO), polishes the picture's time frames and moods with alternating sheens of gloss and grit.
Culturally, OCTAV is a picture that attempts to recast the notion of the Romanian film as far more universal and less grim than recent outings from noted filmmaker Christian Mungui, who specializes in admittedly powerful yet bleak morality plays with no winners, and less hope. By contrast, OCTAV takes an accessibly humanist view of our universal experience and that of the Romanian people—we all live, feel, remember and move forward in life, and how we come to terms with the formative events we experience is what defines us, and connects us.
My soul is full of Gratitude; I am feeling now closer to everything that means the Beauty of Life! I've rediscovered myself as More Beautiful Romanian Woman and I am proud of this Beautiful Octav Romanian Film! Thank you!
The movie enjoyed tremendous publicity and marketing support across all media. Naturally, this only built up the curiosity and the expectations of the public. However, all of this excitement collapses once the movie is seen, as it does not live up to its hype.
Why? Because despite the fact that the casting includes A-list actors, only the main actor, Marcel Iures, actually gets some screen time. The rest, such as Victor Rebengiuc, Andi Vasluianu, Dana Rogoz, get to play incredibly small parts with relatively restrained screening time. Thus, the viewer does not get the chance to see a proper performance from these actors, and, more importantly, the viewer is not offered the chance to see a reasonable character development. Instead, the movie focuses only on the main character and to such a great extent that it becomes annoying and, to be honest, dull.
Moreover, the entire movie is very chopped up, segmented, broken and then confusingly reassembled. Without giving away any spoilers, I can describe the movie as a mix of various segments of the main character's life. While this is a nice technique, unfortunately, the director chose a confusing order for the segments to be patched up: he threw in present-day episodes, then childhood memories, then again present-day segments, he then mixes childhood and present-day segments, then one, incredibly random teenage segment, then again childhood, then present-day and so on. This results in a broken movie, lacking a logical structure, some easy-to-follow narrative. The effect is that the viewer is thrown into pure ambiguity and misunderstanding, becoming tired of trying to keep up with all these different segments.
Lastly, I was also left with the sensation that the director tried to milk some emotions as much as possible from some rather okay, unimpressive scenes. There is one scene where two of the characters play and laugh. Unfortunately, it goes on way beyond its natural running time, that it becomes cringe-worthy and obviously staged and unnatural. Simply put, the over-zealous desire of creating something poetic destroys the simplicity and beauty of the act. Sometimes, less is more.
All in all, the movie feels like an incipient draft which needs further work. It could have used more attention to the dialogue, more character development, improved storyline. Sadly, I was left with the impression that something better, more put-together could have been created.