Closer to the Moon (2013)

4/5

Romania/USA; Nae Caranfil


All Audiences


Bucharest, 1959. When it was thought that the all-powerful communist regime has thwarted all opposition inside and outside the country, and the “enemies of the people” were eradicated, an insane gesture of bravado – the robbery of the National Bank by a gang of 6 armed men – becomes the symbol of the anger and frustration of the disenchanted. Nothing filtered in the press, but the government wanted an exemplary punishment for the outlaws. Arrested and convicted to death, the robbers were forced to participate to a propaganda movie retelling from the official point of view their crime, spree and subsequent capture.  Thus unfurl the story of the 6 Jewish friends, heroes of the Resistance during World War II who immortalized their loathing against a criminal regime by pulling off the biggest bank heist in Romanian history.  

This is the point where history and fiction part. Caranfil crafted a movie of scintillating, lighthearted and glib brilliance, transfiguring the grim realities of the epoch in a firework of wit and verve as the prisoners, manifestly with their high spirits intact, sidestep the government’s propagandistic agenda and use the movie as an occasion to take their revenge after their grueling detention and trial.  The first act, that sets the stage for the “film within the film” – an artifice that is already a leitmotiv in the Romanian director’s work.  The focal character here is a naïve young aspiring filmmaker, Virgil (Harry Lloyd) who initially witnessed the robbery, and is assigned the task to assist the alcoholic director of the official reconstitution movie. Though an upright and believable character, irreproachably embodied by Games of Thrones’ Harry Lloyd, he never surprises us and his arc of evolution is minimal.

The ensemble takes flight as the neurotic, insomniac official obsessed with elucidating the motive of such a desperate gesture, kickstarts the picture, only to be hindered by a myriad of amusing scrapes (including the boozy director passing out). The convicts take control of the direction with gusto, providing terrific entertainment. Emerging from the hell of the communist prisons, shaken by the grueling experience, they give, with an insolent wit and an irrepressible energy, a beautiful lesson of humanity.

The only downside is the director’s choice to realize the film in English, most likely in the hope of securing an international career. But those who do have access to the Romanian subtitles will soon understand what treasures of spontaneity and wit were lost in translation, the resulting dialogues striking the ear as a bit stiff.

Though not flawless, Closer to the Moon is an enjoyable and moving ride, but also a special breed of Romanian picture. While most endeavors of the New Wave are grim, documentary-like examinations of reality, Closer to the Moon, without sugarcoating its harshest aspects, has a whimsical, childish and capricious edge that may as well make it a perennial favorite.

Closer

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