12:08 East of Bucharest
2007, NR, 89 min. Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu. Starring Mircea Andreescu, Teodor Corban, Ion Sapdaru.
REVIEWED By Toddy Burton, Fri., Sept. 14, 2007
On Dec. 22 in a small town east of Bucharest, the anniversary of the 1989 Romanian revolution has arrived. Sound like the setup for wildly subtle character-based comedy? In writer/director Porumboiu’s feature debut (which took the Camera d’Or prize at Cannes in 2006) it is. Using a conversation about history, three men, and a talk show, the film achieves surprising levels of underplayed wit and pathos. Piscoci (Andreescu) is a grumbling old man battling against the neighborhood firecracker epidemic. When asked to play Santa Claus, he agrees, but upon examining the stained red jacket, he declares, “This costume is shit.” Manescu (Sapdaru) is a fading history teacher whose heavy drinking results in so many debts that after collecting his paycheck, he immediately spends it all in repayment and must borrow more. Jderescu (Corban) is the vain talk-show host who desperately recruits anyone available for his latest taping and winds up with Manescu and Piscoci. Today’s topic: Did the revolution that occurred throughout Romania happen in this small town? The conversation centers on whether or not people began to protest before the socialist leader’s departure at 12:08pm. While Manescu details his pre-12:08 protest, viewer calls trickle in, insisting that Manescu is lying. A debate ensues. Is it a revolution if people took to the streets after the fact? A profound answer comes from Piscoci: “One makes whatever revolution one can, each in their own way.” If this doesn’t sound riotously funny, that’s because it’s not. Calling to mind early Jarmusch (himself a winner of the Camera d’Or), Porumboiu holds on to awkward moments and makes brilliant use of the show itself. Piscoci can’t stay focused, creating paper boats or making faces at the commentary while the frustrated cameraman zooms in and out, constantly jolting the frame. Except for these isolated moves, the camera remains primarily still, resulting in stoic action in panoramic shots. Great subtle comedy is mined as when Piscoci, dressed in his newly purchased Santa Claus robes, places firecrackers in the doorway to his apartment building. The frame is wide, directly facing the building. A group of men discusses the sale of a new car while the doddering yet determined red figure runs back and forth, borrowing a match to assert his revenge. The result is character-based comedy well played with a delicate hand. While 12:08 East of Bucharest could take more than one viewing to truly appreciate, it’s worth the commitment. AFS@Dobie