Roman returns to the land he has just inherited from his grandfather. Fully decided to sell this vast but desolate property, he is warned by the local cop that his grandfather was a local ...
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Roman returns to the land he has just inherited from his grandfather. Fully decided to sell this vast but desolate property, he is warned by the local cop that his grandfather was a local crime lord and his men will not let go of the land..
The landscape plays a central role in Dogs (Caini) the first long feature film of Romanian director Bogdan Mirica. Visuals, actually, together with acting play the most important tasks in this film, which is very different from many other features that can be seen on commercial screens or in festivals. One may say this is at the expense of story telling, although there are a few very interesting elements in the story as well. It takes place in a frontier land, at the Eastern border of Romania, where wild fields burnt by the sun meet the Danube at the end of its trip across Europe. As many frontier spaces, it's a place with its own rules, where applying state laws and even morality or simple human laws implies risks. It is also a space which is far from cities and civilization, but not from the side effects of urban crime and especially of corruption which seems a recurring theme in all Romanian movies (it was featured in all the three Romanian films I have seen at the International Film Festival in Haifa).
There are two sources of inspiration for this combination of strong drama and violent thriller. The first can be found in the deep history of Romanian literature which had a distinct naturalistic trend at the end of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, with tough stories and characters in short stories and novels about family feuds, conflicts about owning land, and erotic passionate intrigues, mostly located in the Romanian rural space (which was at that time the dominant social environment). The second one is from the gangster and horror movies of the last two decades. I do not know whether Tarantino has seen this film, but I am pretty sure that Mirica has seen Tarantino's, as well as some of the Korean horror movies. The combination of the two sources of inspiration together with the excellent sound and image work, plus a dose of humor, make some of the toughest scenes that I have seen lately surprisingly palatable.
Acting is in many cases the strong part in Romanian films, which owes so much to an excellent local school of theater acting. I will start with the relatively weaker role - the one of the young man from the city who inherits his grandfather's property and comes in the strange area, triggering the events. Dragos Bucur fights with a role that is incompletely conceived, maybe intentionally. This weaker part is compensated by the splendid role of the old policeman (Gheorghe Visu), dying of an incurable disease, whose last and pathetic fight to fix things that have gone wrong so many years, a role which brings together moral fiber, emotion, and humor. The trio is completed by the local gang leader played by Vlad Ivanov, one of the top actors of Romania today, if not simply the best, an actor who cannot do wrong.
'Caini' belongs to a new phase of the Romanian cinema. No more 'New Wave', no more Communism or transition as principal themes. Another type of story, a different approach to film making. Aesthetics are at least as important as the story. There are many good reasons to see this film, quite different from many other. Go for it.
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