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Ivan Semciuc (a journalist), is a charismatic man nonetheless guilty of cynicism and lack of compassion. A seemingly meaningless sexual encounter with a translator in a hotel room in Kabul produces a vital revolution in Ivan's unshakeable lifestyle. After Ivan's arrival back to Bucharest, Ioana is found dead, with her wrists cut. Ivan starts living in the absent presence of Ioana, who is starting to be more vivid in death than in life.
The international military engagement in Afghanistan after 9/11 is nearing the 20th anniversary. It seems quite surprising to me that very few films have been made on this subject, about the impact that the foreign intervention has had on the lives of the Afghan people, about the traumas suffered by many of the foreign soldiers or civilians involved in the actions there. A few American movies, most of them in the 'action' genre, the British series 'Our Girl' about which I wrote here, and that's all I know about. I may be missing some, of course. 'Moon Hotel Kabul' is the first attempt of the Romanian cinema in this direction. A fascinating theme. Although only the first sequences in the film take place in Afghanistan, the Center-Asian country is present throughout the film of director Anca Damian because of its impact on the lives and death of the people who have been there.
Ivan Senciuc (Florin Piersic Jr. ), a reporter at an important Romanian daily newspaper returns from Afghanistan after having spent the last night in Kabul at the Moon Hotel with the young translator Ioana Preda (Ofelia Popii ). Two days later he learns that the young woman has died, supposedly having committed suicide. As the hero oscillates between his instincts of reporter and the desire to bring a last homage and lead to the eternal rest a woman who faced alone the big world, and film oscillates stylistically between a hesitating thriller anchored in actuality and a journey into the 'deep Romania' towards the village where the coffin is awaited by Ioana's mother (Rodica Negrea ) and brother (Alexandru Nagy).
This combination hides both the promise and the failure of this film. I see director Anca Damian and scriptwriter Lia Bugnar following a trend that is common to many directors and scriptwriters lately. Their films try to deal with too many subjects at once, to adopt influences and to use styles from different directions. It is good sometimes not to be able to categorize exactly the genre of a movie, but in some cases it seems that the director, screenwriter and producers have not decided what kind of film to make, or may have wanted to please spectators with different preferences. Part of 'Moon Hotel Kabul' explores the Romanian actuality from the original angle of the traumatic impact suffered by the few Romanians exposed to the wars of Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Another part of it would be a thriller combined with criticism of press opportunism, but the film ends exactly when this part becomes more interesting. The binder is the minimalist style, characteristic of Romanian films in the last 10-15 years, with attention to detail and based on fine actors performances. The actors are indeed really excellent. Florin Piersic Jr. gives a strong and yet introspected performance in the lead role. Alexandru Nagy creates a role of composition that reminded me of Florin Piersic - father in one the best roles of his career in 'Of Men and Mice' on the stage of the National Theater about half a century ago. Seeing again Rodica Negrea after a long time was a delight. Ilona Brezoianu and Adrian Titieni accurately sketched two memorable supporting roles. I also liked the cinematography, with a Bucharest filmed with a dusty yellow filter that made me breeze the air pollution I so well know. The oscillation between two different genres of movies, plus some insertions belonging totally to another style (fantastic cinema) left me however with a feeling of inconsistency. 'Moon Hotel Kabul' is a puzzle made up of many interesting parts, but an unfinished puzzle in which some pieces are missing, and the existing ones do not fit perfectly.
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