Romania is so in the house now, trendwise, that the announcement of a new discovery on the level of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or 2005’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu would almost be cause for a deep, post-Communist yawn. (An 11-day survey of the nation’s cinema isnow cresting at Walter Reade.) As such, going backward makes sense: Cristi Puiu’s pre-Lazarescu 2001 debut, Stuff and Dough, a worthy bit of revival at Film Forum, represents that director’s extremely savage humor sprung fully formed into being.
Like a low-budget Romanian Duel shot largely from the backseat of a van, the movie is a dizzying combo of high and low, injecting the heady suspense of a Hollywood road chase into the cynical context of ex-Soviet opportunism. Three young people, couriers of “medicine” for a hoodlum, ride into Bucharest from the suburbs: Ovidiu (Papadopol) hopes to earn enough from these drug runs to leave behind his Iron Maiden–postered bedroom and start his own business; Vali (Bucur), his gangly, high-strung pal, wants in on the action; Bety (Flora) is Vali’s spaced-out girlfriend. They’re not born criminals, but you assume they can at least handle this one drop. Puiu fills his running time with their bickering, and even though this print’s subtitles are often misspelled, the film’s Linklateresque vibe is infectious—until that red car starts following them and the tension spikes immeasurably. Stuff and Dough is paranoia done promisingly, by a young director who probably lived through the real thing.