The portrait of a failure
by Stefan Dobroiu
04/07/2011 - Included in 2010 in the San Sebastian competition, Constantin Popescu's second feature Principles of Life [trailer, film focus] will be domestically released in September. The film comes with Vlad Ivanov's (the terrible Mr. Bebe in Cristian Mungiu's Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [trailer, film focus]) first main part, Emilian Velicanu, a 40-something man who will discover that his seemingly perfect life is actually far from perfect.
It would be difficult to find a more different film from Popescu's previous directing effort, Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man, a foray into the hardships of a group of young Romanians fighting against the communist regime half a century ago: the audience is invited into the present and into the life of single man, Velicanu, who will see himself juggling between two families and a stressful job in order to solve all his problems before leaving for a long-awaited holiday at the seaside. Divorced and remarried, father of an adolescent son, Catalin (Gabriel Huian), and of a small child with his new wife, Velicanu will be confronted with a whole series of awkward moments and ‘tiffs’, with the increasing pressure making him reveal his true nature.
An excellent portrait (of a failure), Principles of Life is a great opportunity for Vlad Ivanov's tireless adaptability. Another possible title for this HiFilm production could be ‘The Happiest Man in the World’ (a kissing cousin to another title in the HiFilm portfolio, Radu Jude's first feature, The Happiest Girl in the World [trailer]), as everything seems perfect in Velicanu's little life, a life gradually shattered under Popescu's unforgiving eye. At the end, it’s quite difficult to choose between pity for the poor Velicanu or satisfaction, as another great rascal of the big screen receives what he deserves. Whatever the viewer's reaction, one thing is clear: Vlad Ivanov is perfectly chosen for Velicanu, a true chameleon of nuances, covering everything from amusement to mind-blowing terror.
Gabriel Huian should also be praised for his stubborn and quiet Catalin, more interested in spending time online than listening to his father's "experienced" advice on life, girls and everything. Five years after his debut in Cristian Nemescu's Marilena from P7, Huian proves himself worthy of a new generation of young Romanian actors which gave us George Pistereanu (If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle [trailer] and Andreea Bosneag (The Happiest Girl in the World). The supporting actors are also top-notch, with the entire cast from The Portrait … making cameo-style appearances.
Written by Razvan Radulescu and Alexandru Baciu, Principles of Life could form, together with Radu Muntean's Boogie [trailer, film focus] and Tuesday, After Christmas [trailer, film focus], a trilogy of failure. In Boogie, the ‘30-something’ young men played by Dragos Bucur, Mimi Branescu and Adrian Vancica learn that the end of youth doesn't necessarily bring wisdom into their lives. Tuesday, After Christmas could be labeled ‘Boogie After 10 Years’, while Principles of Life is perfectly suited as the next chapter, ‘Boogie After 15 Years’. The rebellion of youth is long gone, and impossible desires are gone too. After his divorce, Velicanu is now again married but it seems that the age of 40 does not bring answers either... Like Boogie, Principles of Life is scary: what can one do in order to achieve serenity and fulfillment? In the Radulescu-Baciu universe, the answer is pessimistic. Maybe we should wait another ten years...