Review: The Story of a Summer Lover
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Romania’s Paul Negoescu is back at the Transilvania IFF with a new, audience-orientated feature, an obvious homage to Woody Allen’s neurotic love stories
Romanian director Paul Negoescu took the Transilvania International Film Festival audience by surprise in 2016 with his ultra-popular comedy Two Lottery Tickets [+see also:
interview: Paul Negoescu
film profile], which went on to finish its stay in local cinemas with an impressive total of 134,000 admissions. At the festival’s 17th edition (25 May-3 June, Cluj-Napoca), Negoescu world-premiered his third feature, The Story of a Summer Lover.
The screenplay, written by Negoescu, follows Petru (Alexandru Papadopol), a forty-something Maths professor and the titular “summer lover” (although “idle fellow” would be a more accurate translation of the Romanian term). We see the protagonist meeting his two best friends, Silviu (Radu Romaniuc), a writer, and Andi (Rolando Matsangos), an actor, to whom Petru brags about his convenient relationship with Irina (Nicoleta Lefter), who lets him sleep around whenever he feels like it. In spite of this freedom, Petru wants to break up with Irina, but he will soon have to face an unpleasant surprise: Irina tells him she’s pregnant and that, as she doesn’t see a future to their relationship, they should stop seeing each other, no matter whether or not she chooses to have the baby.
An obvious homage to Woody Allen’s neurotic love stories, The Story of a Summer Lover may prove interesting and attractive for local audiences, as it casually discusses familiar issues touching on infidelity, attraction, success, sex and so on. While Romanian directors are usually interested in approaching grander topics – a standpoint that can be blamed, at least partially, for Romanian cinemagoers’ reluctance to sample domestic features that are usually highly lauded abroad – Negoescu prefers to sacrifice festival appeal in favour of accessibility.
Unfortunately, Petru is not exactly a protagonist that one would gladly root for. Vain and obtuse, selfish and depressingly powerless, his inner conflict is at first caused exclusively by the fact that he has been dumped by Irina at the exact moment when he wanted to dump her. For any other man, this would be a win-win situation, but not for Petru, who actually chooses to feel trapped at the wrong end of rejection. The prospect of becoming a father seems less urgent than the feeling that nobody actually needs him, a reality that pushes him towards reluctant change.
Not wanting anything, rather than truly wanting something, the film’s male characters navigate the muddy waters of casual mediocrity. Silviu repeatedly talks about a book he may write, while Andi dreams about a leading part that never materialises. Fortunately, the screenplay is more generous with the female characters, who know what they want or, at least, surely know what they don’t want. Ultimately, everyone settles for something, which is less encouraging regarding the film’s box-office prospects and somehow comments on the aspirations of the film itself.
The screenplay is brightened somewhat by a meta layer: the characters talk about art (and how Petru could be the protagonist of Silviu’s next book) and the complexities of its popularity, a topic close to Negoescu’s heart, after his first feature, A Month in Thailand [+see also:
interview: Paul Negoescu
film profile], which premiered in the Giornate degli Autori sidebar at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, and a second feature that may just be the most lucrative Romanian film of the last few decades. The Story of a Summer Lover sets its sights on the most coveted prize of them all, the love of both critics and cinemagoers, but it is unclear whom exactly it will convince.
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