For his debut, Nemescu has dramatised an incident from the period of the Kosovo war in 1999. A company of Nato-attached US troops with an attachment of Romanian soldiers are on an urgent, top-secret mission to deliver a train load of communications equipment bound for Kosovo. Unexpectedly, the group’s journey is stalled in the lowly town of Capalnita by its by-the-book stationmaster.
Nemescu is fully aware of the symbolic and farcical aspects to these events. In describing them, he adopts some of the virtues of his compatriots, employing the socially-conscious realism associated with Puiu and Mungiu’s work in his depiction of the village locals, and applying the ironic comedy of Poromboiu’s films. Certain scenes are laugh-out-loud funny, especially those featuring the stand-out turn by Armand Assante as the long-suffering US captain.
But most of the performances are relatively low-key, not least Maria Dinulescu’s seductive portrayal of the restless stationmaster’s daughter, who takes up with the captain’s adjutant (Jamie Elman). But Nemescu isn’t aiming primarily at comedy, rather at exploring ideas of misunderstanding, misconception and the fouled lines of communication on a personal and national, or even international, scale. True, his use of romantic and comic digressions as wider metaphors isn’t always so successful and his over-use of a shaky hand-held camera can be irksome.
The pacing, too, is possibly more leisurely than it might have been had the 28-year-old director not tragically died in a car crash while the film was in post-production. But Nemescu’s barbed attacks on Romania’s bureaucracy, inaction and neo-capitalist corruption are sharp enough.
Likewise, his attempts at a wider historical perspective are laudable, effective and pertinent, as are his core meditations on his country’s residual national pride and the ignominy of his homeland’s buffeted history as a perceived ‘third world country’ caught between the alternatively hot and cold ambitions of the US and Russia. Nemescu’s promising young voice will be sorely missed, not only in Romanian cinema but also on the international scene.