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Disappointing debut for A Farewell to Fools

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- The period drama needed more than Gerard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel to have success in Romania

Disappointing debut for A Farewell to Fools

It is the most expensive film produced in Romania since the 1989 Revolution, with a budget of €3.2m, and its release was one of the widest in recent history: 40 screens in approximately 20 cities. Starring Gerard Depardieu, Harvey Keitel and Laura Morante and a few very popular Romanian actors, A Farewell to Fools [+see also:
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sold only 3,246 tickets during its first weekend on release, which represents a bad forecast for commercial success on US screens.

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A Farewell to Fools is the first remake in the history of Romanian cinema, as it is based on Titus Popovici's novella The Death of Ipu, which was first adapted in 1971 by popular communist era director Sergiu Nicolaescu under the title of And Then I Sentenced Them All to Death. The re-adaptation is directed by Bogdan Dreyer, who left the country during the 1990s, after directing the first feature produced in Romania after the Revolution. The film, formerly known as Ipu - Convicted to Live, stars famous French/'Russian' actor Gerard Depardieu as Ipu, the village fool in a small Transylvanian settlement at the end of World War II, but his fame, together with those of Harvey Keitel and Laura Morante, did not convince domestic audiences.

Ipu is best friends with Alex (Bogdan Iancu), one of the kids in the village, and they spend their time fishing and playing war games. Actually, Ipu is French and his real name is Theodore: he was left behind by the French army at the end of World War I, being found almost dead and with no memories of his former life by the priest Ioan (Keitel). Now it’s time for Theodore to save the priest’s life: when a German soldier is killed in the village and a German commander threatens that the most prominent ten members of the community will be sentenced to death if they don't turn in the killer, Ipu is asked to sacrifice himself for the sake of others.

Unfortunately, the screenplay written by Dreyer together with Anusavan Salamanian prefers to overlook the dramatic contrast between the group of rich people and the simple minded Ipu who cannot defend himself against their ruse, and turns A Farewell to Fools into a chaotic farce, with extravagant gestures, lots of yelling and shallow dialogues pronounced exclusively in English with as many different (and thick) accents as actors and characters.

A Farewell to Fools is partially saved by Depardieu, very at ease somewhere between his parts in Mammuth and the Asterix and Obelix franchise, and 13-year old Bogdan Iancu, the innocent Alex who is not as ready as the priest, his wife, the mayor (Nicodim Ungureanu), the doctor (Belgian actor Hubert Damen), the notary (Gheorghe Visu) and the chief of police (Alexandru Bindea) to sacrifice Ipu. Alex and Ipu have a beautiful chemistry on the silver screen, their wild antics in the ruins of an old fortress near the village inviting the audience to meditate on Matthew’s “blessed are the poor in spirit”. The film could have been an interesting analysis of how innocence is threatened by power, but Bogdan Dreyer falls short of turning his film into a relevant meditation on the destiny of the outsider.

Shot over two weeks in the medieval town of Sighisoara and then in studio in Bucharest, A Farewell to Fools doesn’t have the convincing historical polish one would expect from a €3.2m project, which an international team of set and costume designers helped create. The domestic release was also affected by a conflict between the director and the producer Giuliano Doman: the former sued the latter for changing the film’s ending and tried to stop the release, reportedly supported by Depardieu and Keitel, who did not attend the official screening.

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