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LOCARNO 2017 Competition

Review: Charleston


- LOCARNO 2017: Andrei Creţulescu’s first feature-length film proves that Romanian cinema is ready to explore new styles and genres

Review: Charleston
Radu Iacoban and Şerban Pavlu in Charleston

Part of a very strong contingent of first feature-length films expected from Romania (read the news here), Andrei Creţulescu’s Charleston [+see also:
interview: Andrei Creţulescu
film profile
is proof that local cinema struggles to explore new genres and styles. Advertised as a black comedy, the film is now being shown in the International Competition category at Locarno Film Festival

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The story centres on Alexandru (Şerban Pavlu), a man whose wife, Ioana (Ana Ularu, very briefly seen on screen), has recently died in a car crash. Alcohol and the occasional fights with men from his old chic neighbourhood in central Bucharest fuel Alexandru’s search for oblivion. One evening, a very unexpected visitor rings the doorbell: it’s Sebastian (Radu Iacoban), a younger man who introduces himself as Ioana’s lover for the last five months of her life. The encounter and a surprising proposition from Sebastian opens up a path to an unpredictable evolution for Alexandru.

Despite the film opening with a fatal accident, Creţulescu’s first feature-length film is much lighter and colourful than many Romanian films. That’s not to say that the screenplay shies away from the difficult aspects of mourning and loss, with the difference between burly, aggressive and insecure Alexandru and sensitive, understanding and delicate Sebastian becoming the perfect area for Creţulescu to turn drama into comedy. Charleston also convincingly compares and analyses two very different psychologies. 

The film’s versatility may be its biggest strength and probably its most appealing feature for the audience: some viewers may prefer the dramatic moments, while others will be more open to the comedy, wondering, as the curtains close, whether the film is a drama or a black comedy. Regardless of the fact, it’s fairly rare for a Romanian film to have such large audience potential.

Charleston receives bonus points for its mind and soul, but also for its aesthetics. Barbu Bălăşoiu’s camera explores Bucharest’s chic spots, while the interiors reflect the educated and art-loving protagonists. It’s the perfect setting for their issues, as they talk about love, cinema, books, music and hunting dogs, completely ignoring the darker topics usually explored in Romanian films. Creţulescu also uses the elaborate, jazzy score as another means of distancing Charleston from other local productions.

Unfortunately not all is perfect in Creţulescu’s colourful world. An almost absurd subplot concerning hasty demolitions in central Bucharest greatly weighs down the screenplay without offering any truly useful context, while some shots get top marks for atmosphere they could easily be ignored in a sharper, shorter cut. 

Charleston was produced by Icon Production (Romania) Les Films du Tambour (France), Mille et Une Films (France), and WAG Prod (France). The feature is internationally represented by Versatile Films and Romanian release is tentatively set for the beginning of summer 2018.

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