12:08 East of Bucharest
Sixteen years after Romanian dictator Ceausescu fled his country on December 22, 1989, a sleepy town's TV station owner decides to mark the occasion on his "Issue of the Day" talk show. Inviting the town's history teacher, a known drunk, and its retired Santa Claus to join him, Virgil Jderescu (Teodor Corban, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days") will debate just how revolutionary their little town was at "12:08 East of Bucharest."
Laura's Review: A
During the past two years, Romanian films have won four prominent prizes at Cannes and Romania has become the place to watch for new talent. Writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu won the 2006 Palme d'Or for his first feature and this delightfully deadpan look at the need to believe in our own heroic tendencies is part gentle slapstick, part social satire and wholly humane. The first person we meet is Tiberiu Manescu (Ion Sapdaru, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days"), roused from a drunken stupor by his wife, who demands that he bring his entire salary home with him today. Manescu spends his morning trying to cadge more liquor while keeping his debtors at bay and keeping his wife from leaving from him. He learns that he has once again insulted a Chinese shopkeeper that lives among them the night before at the bar. It is Chen who bails him out. Meanwhile, Old man Piscoci (Mircea Andreescu) is being asked to reprise his Santa character for the upcoming holiday and spends his day assembling a costume, also with then help of Chen's shop. Jderescu spends his morning assembling pretentious quotes and fretting over his mistress Vali's (Cristina Ciofu) decision to spend New Year's Eve in Bucharest rather than working his evening newscast. This buildup portrays the interconnectedness of small town life and the drabness of post-Soviet Eastern Europe ('Nice tree!' is noted repeatedly as people drag scrawny shrubbery about). The three main characters are fleshed out with gentle humor. The real meat of "12:08 East of Bucharest," however, is found in Jderescu's station, a facility of Wayne's Worldian professionalism. A folk band plays in cramped quarters before a backdrop of the town hall, photographed by an engaged cameraman with hand held video. 'Cut!' screams Jderescu - 'Use the tripod!' - a bit of self mockery by Porumboiu, who has been using, most effectively it should be noted, the deadpan visual style of motionless camera parked in the middle of the action, each change of scene one extended take. As "Issue of the Day" begins, we view through the eye of that student camera guy ('You all learn from me then leave for Bucharest!' shouts Jderescu) who cannot resist pans, zooms, takes and jiggles. Like a small town car salesman, Jderescu slickly introduces his guests, slides in some dubiously contextual quotes from the likes of Plato, and introduces his subject - was their small town part of the revolution? In other words, was anybody protesting before Ceausescu fled at 12:08 sixteen years earlier. Manescu immediately makes the claim that he and three other teachers (two conveniently deceased, one immigrated to Canada) were out in the square that day around 11 a.m. Piscoci makes pleasantries ('Hello,' 'Happy Holidays') and makes paper boats. High hilarity ensues as Jderescu tries to maintain pseudo intellectualism while one call in viewer after the next accuse Manescu of lying ('he was at the corner bar drinking like a pig'). Backed into a corner, Manescu refuses to change his claims. Piscoci tells the rambling tale of a minor makeup in a long suffering marriage. And doesn't Porumboiu find just the right note of hushed symbolic beauty to send us out on. "12:08 East of Bucharest" is being distributed by Tartan Films, who led the U.S. charge by presenting "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" last year. They are both masterpieces of understatement and the understanding of the human condition.
Robin's Review: B+
On 11 September 2001 America and the world changed in such a way that any vestige of innocence that once existed came to an end. French producer Alain Brigand, in memoriam of this near-apocalyptic event, commissioned 11filmmakers from around the world to bring to film their thoughts and impressions of fateful day with each auteur given 11 minutes, 9 seconds and one frame to tell their story in "11'09"01 - September 11." 11 filmmakers from almost every continent - looking at the list I noticed the conspicuous absence of a South American 'maker - were assembled and given the task of recording their impressions of one of the most horrific events in American history, worse, in many ways, than the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The directors, given full control over their individual work, come from all sexes, ages, cultures and race and each put their own personal spin on the events of that tragic day - with some terrific interpretations. Not every on of the 11 pieces is a gem but there are some that will appeal to the audience more than others. I had a number of favorites in this pastiche of film styles, political views and, sometimes, statements about the way the world is going. The most riveting of all the entries is Mexican helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu who chose to leave the screen at black for almost the entire time with just the audio of sound bites and newscasts of the horror and shock of that day punctuated with very brief moments of footage captured on tape and oh, so familiar to us all. The several frames of a body falling through space are, to use the old cliché, worth a thousand words. Inarritu evokes the most powerful images and does it with 99.9% of the film in black. Charming Samira Makhmalbaf evokes a very different take on her entry for "September 11" with her story of a teacher in rural Afghanistan who is trying to teach her tiny wards about the recent events a half a world away in New York City. Since the concept of the enormity of the Twin Towers disaster is beyond the scope of the imagination of these little children, the teacher uses the village's focal point, the chimney of the kiln that makes the bricks for everyone, as her example of what happened. Instead of trying to make them understand the incomprehensible, she asks them to describe how bad the village would be harmed if the chimney toppled down. Makhmalbaf makes the explanation and description understandable for these children and, fortunately, us, too. Idrissa Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso, Africa, tells an innocent and often-funny story about a group of 12-year olds who, after the terrorism of 11 September, become convinced that Osama bin Laden is hiding out in their country. One of the boys, whose mother is ill and needs expensive medicine, decides that he must capture this evil man and collect the $12-million reward. He enlists the help of his schoolmates and this proud group of warriors, armed with spear, sword, toy gun and video camera, head for their destiny. This is, by far, the most charming of the short stories told. British director Ken Loach makes a striking comparison, in his contribution, that compares the deadly day in 2001 with another event that occurred on the same date (and with similar numbers of dead in its aftermath) - the overthrow of the elected government of Chile in 1973. He makes a statement about America's past policies and compares them to the outrage of the terrorist attack three decades later. This is a very "food for thought" piece and will appeal to us left-wing history buffs. The other makers invited have works of varying degrees of appeal. Mira Nair tells an austere true-life story of an Indian man who is one of the many who disappeared in the explosive disaster of the crashing Towers. He is, unjustly, marked as one of the terrorist because he physically fit the profile. His mother would not accept this verdict and is vindicated when, as the dead are accounted for, it is discovered that her son, was, in fact, one of the heroes of the day, sacrificing his life for the sake of others. Sean Penn directs Ernest Borgnine in a melancholy tale about an old widower who never let go of his wife's presence long after her death. There is a bittersweet moment as, with the Tower's down, sunlight returns to his dim apartment but the enlightenment carries with it the realization of the truth. Danis Tanovic, whose "No Man's Land" made such a powerful statement about the absurdity of war, tries to bring the 11 September event into the fold of the Bosnian civil war. Egyptian Youssef Chahine compares the attack on the Trade Center with America's incursion into Lebanon through the eyes of one of the dead Marines killed in the terrible barracks bombing that killed hundreds. Israeli director Amos Gitai tells the story of a Tel Aviv reporter at the scene of another terrorist bombing in the city's streets. As the police and emergency personnel leap to the fore, she is trying to get her producer to give her air time. She fights to be heard and, finally, is about to broadcast when she is preempted by another, more deadly bombing taking place in New York City. French director Claude Lelouch lends an unusual perspective of events with a deaf French woman living with a guide for hearing impaired children. He is leading such a tour that day and she has the television on as we, not she, watch the terrible events unfold and feel the uncertainty of survival before she even realizes what had happened. Japanese auteur Shohei Imamura creates a metaphor involving the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and a return Imperial soldier who thinks he's a snake - this one gave me the most pause as I wondered what the heck Imamura means. "September 11" is an imaginative collection of both newcomer and tried and true filmmakers who state their minds on that earth-shattering day in 2001. For the most part it reaches our hearts and minds. There have been many diatribes at the sometimes anti-US bent of some of the works but this is closed-minded thinking. If anything, the cowardly attack on innocents should reinforce our gratefulness of the Bill of Rights that protect our rights to have freedom, real freedom - speech, assembly and all others dictated in our Constitution. "11'09"01 - September 11" is a work that has resonance even two years after that day. Some of the contributions have more impact than others but, in its total, is a work that should be seen by all.