in 18th Bratislava International Film Festival

by Ulrich Wimmeroth

As Alecu, the grandfather of Roman (Dragos Bucur from Police, Adjective), passes away, he is now the only heir of a vast property of land in rural Romania. Located in the middle of nowhere near the Ukranian Border, Roman sees no use for his newfound possession und arrives from Bucharest to sell the land as soon as possible to the highest bidder. What should be just a small distraction from his city-life and get him some extra money, is in fact the beginning of a deadly adventure with unexpected consequences.

Unbeknown to Roman, his dear granddad was a crime lord, who ruled the region with his henchmen and even the communist regime dared not bother him. As Roman arrives in the isolated place, he is greeted by an old caretaker and a scary German shepherd, ironically names “Police”. Waiting for his local contact, who would like to help sell the property and get a nice share for his work, he encounters strange happenings in the Night. Awaken by the loud barking of the dog, he sees cars trespassing his land and people meeting in the dark. What it is that they are doing is not revealed. Maybe they are selling drugs or weapons, maybe there is human trafficking involved. Roman, and the audience, will never know for sure. But it is not important what they do. What is important is the immediate threat for all outsiders, who dare to disturb their business.

A short time later Roman is warned by his grandfathers right-hand man Samir (played by Vlad Ivanov of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Snowpiercer fame), that he should go back to the city, maybe come once a year for a holiday, but not try to change the Status Quo and definitely not sell the land. Police – the real one, not the dog – is not helpful at all. There is in fact a small police station nearby, but the only two men of justice are not equipped to fight the well organized thugs. The old and terminally ill chief of police Hogas (Gheorghe Visu) even advises Roman to go. He has wanted to get Samir arrested for a long time, but could not get the proof he needs to do so. It gets more and more dangerous for Roman, as the middleman for the sale abruptly vanishes and his girlfriend Ilinca (Raluca Aprodu) arrives for an unplanned and very badly timed visit. As Roman tries to seal the deal for himself and leave for the next town, leaving Ilinca behind, Samir makes his move to end the threat to his organization.

You can surely tell where the first feature film by Romanian director Bogdan Mirica gets its influences from. There is the gritty alone-against- gangsters story of No Country for Old Men, a long take ending in a severed body part like in Blue Velvet and few, but hard to watch, outbursts of Tarantinoestque signature- violence with one especially gruesome scene involving a lengthy use of a hammer on the head of a man. But this Balkan thriller, filmed in brilliant widescreen by cinematographer Andrei Butica, is not a stomach-turner. It is a character-driven slow paced Romanian homage to Westerns, where the camera will rest for minutes on sweaty and weathered faces, while the dialogue is reduced to a minimum – only the essential information needed to understand the motivation of the protagonists and antagonists. A laconic film with dark humored moments, for example as the chief of police examines a severed foot. He does this right on his kitchen table, using his fork and knife for the task of peeling the foot out of the sock and boot. The scenes of black humor, typical of the Romanian New-Wave Cinema, and more dangerous encounters with the bad boys add up to an uneasy feel of tension und foreshadowing, which erupts in the third act with the inevitable confrontation between good and evil. The outcome you need to see for yourself.

Edited by Yael Shuv