Sunday, December 06, 2009

Romanian Film Festival ’09: Silent Wedding

Stalin’s demise in 1953 should have been reason enough for celebration. Yet even in death the dictator causes suffering for common people. Such is the case for a betrothed couple whose wedding is disrupted by events far beyond their control in Horaţiu Mălăele’s Silent Wedding (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Romanian Film Festival in New York.

There once was an idyllic rural community where now stands the rusting husk of a Communist era industrial behemoth. Something very bad happened to that town, which the crew of a paranormal reality show intends to investigate. Interviewing the mayor of the town remnant, they come to understand the tragic events that left him the only surviving male resident in a town full of widows.

In what is initially a dreamy flashback sequence, Mălăele introduces viewers to Mara and Iancu, young lovers so passionate they can hardly keep their hands off each other. When their families resign themselves to their obvious ardor, it seems wedding bliss is finally within their reach. However, that evil old tyrant inconveniently dies. It might seem like even more reason for a party, but the Soviets impose a strict one-week ban on celebrations of any kind, lest anyone get the wrong idea.

With all the food bought and prepared, Mara and Iancu’s parents cannot simply postpone the wedding, so they improvise. The wedding continues as scheduled, but in absolute silence. Yet even notwithstanding the village’s grim state in the opening sequences, the appearance of a ghostly apparition suggests all will not end well with this plan.

Based on a true story of a Romanian town destroyed by the Soviets, Wedding is a strange and haunting film. Mălăele constantly shifts the mood and tone, incorporating magical realism, earthy comedy, high tragedy, political allegory, and even an episode of slapstick humor (which one festival patron likened to the Three Stooges during a Q&A exchange that proved devilishly difficult to translate). Yet, somehow the film never suffers from a whiplash effect. It all just seems to work together in the strange fable-like screenplay co-written by Mălăele and Adrian Lustig.

Employing a cast of actors largely drawn from his highly regarded stage productions, first-time film director Mălăele elicits many fine performances in keeping with Wedding’s somewhat surreal vibe. Meda Andreea Victor has an affecting screen presence as Mara, giving the film real heart as the tragic bride. Also making a strong impression, Valentin Teodosiu brings the perfect physicality and a genuine vitality as her bearlike father. While Ovidiu Niculescu is surprisingly memorable as the paranormal reporter, setting the film’s tenor with his ribald humor and sensitivity to historic calamities that continue to linger in the air decades after the fact.

Wedding is funny, sad, and not a little bizarre. It is an excellent selection to showcase the richness of contemporary Romanian cinema while also taking stock of the country’s tragic past on the Twentieth Anniversary of the Revolution. Highly recommended, Wedding screens again tonight (12/6) as the Romanian Film Festival continues at the Tribeca Cinemas.