Domestic is colourful drop of water in the Romanian New Wave
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Adrian Sitaru's third feature expertly explores the ups and downs of living (with pets!) in an apartment building
After winning Best Director and Best Actor (Bogdan Dumitrache) awards at Locarno for his Best Intentions [+see also:
film profile], Adrian Sitaru shifts his target from family drama to apartment building tragicomedy with colourful Domestic [+see also:
film profile], domestically released last weekend. Largely ignored by film festivals around the world, probably because of its very local flavour, the film expertly explores the amusing and stressful reality of living in an apartment building in Bucharest.
From the director's point of view, Domestic is a palimpsest of his previous works: Sitaru takes shafts of his multi-awarded short films and weaves them into a completely new and complex fabric. Not only actors, but even some characters from the shorts show up in the feature. For those familiar with them, Domestic becomes Sitaru’s human comedy of types and situations that switch, with sometimes too much flexibility, from comedy to tragedy.
The film centers on three families who live in the same apartment building. Adrian Titieni is Mr. Lazar, a teacher and also the building’s administrator. He’s in charge with solving his neighbours’ problems, which more often than not are caused by the others’ pets. A couple has brought a dog in the building, and they’re not keeping it in their apartment, but on a mat, outside. This outrages the neighbours, a meeting is organized and social hell breaks loose. It’s a great time for Sitaru to show his talent for atmosphere and charming chaos, with all the characters talking simultaneously and, of course, no reasonable conclusion being reached. It is also a great time to introduce the film’s other main characters: taxi driver Mihaies (excellent Gheorghe Ifrim) and Toni (Sergiu Costache), a young man who offers to take care, in his own way, of the dog problem.
Sitaru builds his film in tableaus: sometimes the camera doesn’t move for minutes, letting the characters develop amusing or sad conversations. They are indeed domestic tableaus, as almost everything happens indoors, with funny moments exploring families’ petty (and also pet-ty) concerns: a hen must be cooked and the Lazars fight over who is supposed to cut it, Mihaies’ wife (Ioana Flora) cooks a rabbit her son Alin (very promising Dan Hurduc) thinks should be kept as a pet, then Lazar’s cat disappears and so on. Ifrim’s character has the most interesting story arc: when Alin brings home a sick pigeon, the loud and ignorant taxi driver stops drinking cheap beer just to prophesy a quick death for his son’s new pet. He will soon prove that his heart is as big as his belly when he buys a cage so that Alin can keep the pigeon.
Sitaru strays from the bleak Romanian new wave with lots of strong colours and lively characters. Even in death (one of the characters tragically dies and a surreal funeral is organized), they fill the screen with emotion, laughter, tears, crisp conversations (Mihaies says aliens are actually tourists from the future) and energy. Even if the characters’ reactions seem somewhat artificial, there is a lot to like about them.
Domestically released last Friday, this 4ProofFilm production sold 5,400 tickets on 24 screens. This relative commercial failure (Bogdan Dreyer’s WWII drama A Farewell to Fools [+see also:
film profile], with Gerard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel, released a week before on 40 screens had only 3,200 admissions) is partly explained by a disappointing trailer and a promotion campaign which tried to show that Domestic is a comedy.
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