Would that we could emphatically praise every film coming out of Romania to keep up the illusion of an unstoppable, unimpeachable New Wave. The truth is that each country's cinema has its ups, downs and middling plateaus, and Florin Serban's juvenile-prison drama belongs decidedly in the latter category. It's a well-made yet slight first feature (adapted from a play by Andreea Valean) whose best scenes recall Alan Clarke's British-Borstal expos Scum.
George Pistereanu has Ray Winstone--esque intensity to spare as Silviu, a teenage inmate two weeks from release who goes apoplectic when he learns his deadbeat mother is decamping with his younger brother to Italy. Serban skillfully sets up the situation and milieu (many of the supporting roles are played by actual convicts), but when Silviu takes a visiting female student (Condeescu) captive, the film betrays its stagey origins. Plenty of directors have made gripping cinema on a single set; here, things bog down in hostage-movie sameness. Despite the faux-realist aesthetic (gritty handheld camerawork; all-natural sound), we never feel like much is at stake, though Pistereanu and Condeescu have an easygoing rapport that makes the quieter moments between them affecting.