Thursday, September 25, 2014

SDFF ’14: A Love Story, Lindenfeld

There are not a lot of Deutsch speaking ethnic Germans left in Romania. The Communists saw to that. Ulli Winkler was fortunate to escape when he could. Decades later, he will return to the ghost town here he once lived, searching for the love of his life in Radu Gabrea’s A Love Story, Lindenfeld (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 San Diego Film Festival.

Germany was good to Winkler, or “the Chairman” as most of his employees know him. He even adopted a son, but he never married. The memory of his intended Helga Kerber simply remained too strong. When the Soviets came to ethnically cleanse Romania’s Banat region, they swept up Kerber in their net, but they missed Winkler through a twist of fate. However, a 2005 television report on the presumably abandoned town of Lindenfeld spurs a flood of memories. Through serendipity, Winkler soon receives reports his beloved Kerber is still alive. With his health and faculties slowly but steadily declining, Winkler instructs his loyal servant-protector Boris take him back to Lindenfeld (a relatively manageable drive in today’s borderless Europe).

Lindenfeld is an unabashedly and achingly old fashioned film, it the best way possible. There is no unfinished business like first love—and Gabrea takes care of business quite well. The constant strains of Pachelbel’s Canon are admittedly a bit of a cliché, but the recordings featured on the soundtrack are unusually lush and pretty. Even if the audience resists, it does what it is supposed to do.

Victor Rebengiuc and Victoria Cociaş play the senior Winkler and Kerber with wonderfully wise maturity. There are no theatrics, thank you very much, but their ardor feels very real. Yet, the subtlest work might come from Alexandru Georgescu as the poker-faced but stout hearted Boris, with the sort of performance that stealthily sneaks up on viewers.

Based on a popular Romanian novel, Lindenfeld dramatizes one of the first tragic manifestations of the Soviet oppression in Eastern Europe and its lingering repercussions. It is a perfect story for Gabrea, who really ought to be more widely celebrated on the international festival circuit. However, his choice of subject matter, such as the National Socialist occupation, the Communist experience, and Yiddish culture (see films like Gruber’s Journey, Red Gloves, and Goldfaden’s Legacy) are apt to make European cultural arbiters rather uncomfortable. Throughout Lindenfeld he helms with a delicate touch and a forgiving allowance of human fallibility. Highly recommended, A Love Story, Lindenfeld screens this Saturday (9/27) as part of this year’s San Diego Film Festival.