12:08 East of Bucharest
2006Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
Cast: Mircea Andreescu, Teo Corban, Ion Sapdaru
merican film students from the old guard often speak of the first time they saw a Godard film as a liberating experience. It’s when they realized they were not obliged to make a movie stifled by Hollywood precedent, but were free to create works personal and unconventional in arc and execution…as long as the thing was honest and moving. Sentiments like these not only nurtured the American Golden Age, but also facilitated and perpetuated the French New Wave, the Prague Spring, Italian Neo-realism, etc. Reminiscent of the films birthed from these movements, 12:08 East of Bucharest is indication that a new, ideological cinema has arrived: it is the Romanian New Wave, and director Corneliu Porumboiu carries the torch…
Sixteen years following the Romanian revolution, local television host Jderescu (Teo Corban) invites drunkard Manescu (Ion Sapdaru) and octogenarian Piscoci (Mircea Andereescu) on his show, asking whether or not they believe their hometown had a hand in eradicating former dictator Ceausescu from power. Manescu claims to have initiated a protest in front of city hall on the cusp of the collapse of the Communist regime, and credits himself with a minor role in bringing the revolution to fruition. As he recounts the alleged protest, viewers jam the switchboard and vehemently contradict his testimony. Manescu eats a lot of shit and struggles through the interview, while Jderescu punches up the arising contradictions and Piscoci tries in vain to mollify the situation.
Restoring a certain dignity to an often-pillaged medium, 12:08 is an affirming piece of cinema. Though the second half consists primarily of the television show debacle, the first patiently studies the characters, and allows the viewer ample time to savor the nuances of their lives. Porumboiu follows each as they navigate their bleak and bankrupt lives, articulated microcosmically in the morning preceding the show. The keenly-observed drama unfolds subtly, which alleviates a lot of potential for boredom during the stagnatory (but not in the pejorative sense) back end format.
Porumboiu’s maiden feature length is consistently funny. As Jderescu scrambles to secure the day’s content, he’s forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel for guests, eventually finding a widowed Santa Claus impersonator and an ambivalent history teacher. Both are far too preoccupied with their personal dramas to conjure anything mildly worthwhile during camera roll. Granted, this humor, motivated by the inadequacies and general pathetic nature of the characters, is often painful, but it also delivers one of the film’s greatest joys. These guys are so lovingly conceived that, no matter how much they humiliate themselves and how repellent they become, it’s easy to forgive their distortions of the truth and their self-serving tendencies, probably because the behavior is so relatable.
This accessibility is what is so very appealing about 12:08 East of Bucharest. Like the Godard films that inspired a glut of excellent cinema, Porumboiu finds new ways to tell stories. But in a noticeable and much appreciated departure from the steely and removed aloofness of a lot of those French New Wave flicks (with a few exceptions, of course), 12:08 is not afraid to bask in vulnerability and human folly. It’s an exciting crop to watch, this new batch of Romanian cinema. Its arrival is relatively unexpected, but if Porumboiu’s work is an indication of what’s to follow, we’re all in for a treat.
12:08 East of Bucharest opened on June 6th at the Film Forum in Manhattan.
By: Frank Rinaldi
Published on: 2007-06-12