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SARAJEVO 2022 Competition

Review: Men of Deeds

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- Paul Negoescu’s fourth feature comes with one of the best performances in recent Romanian cinema

Review: Men of Deeds
Iulian Postelnicu in Men of Deeds

After three urban features based on his own screenplays, Romanian director Paul Negoescu impresses with a sharp change of direction: Men of Deeds [+see also:
interview: Paul Negoescu
film profile
]
, which is now being shown in the main competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival (12-19 August), goes deep into rural Northern Romania, offering an interesting mix of thrills, human frailty and humour.

The screenplay, written by Radu Romaniuc and Oana Tudor, with the latter also playing the protagonist’s ex-wife, centres on Ilie (an excellent Iulian Postelnicu), a village policeman whose professional challenges seem (at least at first) to involve only the regular drunken conflicts at the local tavern and ignoring the questionable, off-screen deeds of the mayor (Vasile Muraru) who buys the benevolence (and silence) of the villagers by investing mysteriously-sourced money into the well-being of the community. But then, a man is murdered in the village. As Ilie and his new colleague Vali (Anghel Damian), who has just graduated from the police academy, have very different opinions on how the investigation should proceed, Men of Deeds sets the trap for a protagonist who will soon make the wrong decision. Or maybe it is right?

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The film achieves what very few recent Romanian films have achieved: to draw the audience in by always remaining fluid. Is it a thriller? Or a black comedy? Should we laugh? Or maybe cringe? As the characters stay true to themselves, their interactions force them to change and get involved in a tug-of-war between good and evil where the rope is none other than Ilie.

It is hard to find the words to compliment the performance of Postelnicu, who dedicates himself totally to Ilie, going far from his comfort zone. Postelnicu was impressive in Radu Muntean’s One Floor Below [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Radu Muntean
film profile
]
and completely unhinged in Andrei Cohn’s Arrest [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Andrei Cohn
film profile
]
, but he truly shines in Men of Deeds, where he builds from scratch (a new accent, a different posture, an impressive range of pained, preoccupied grimaces) a character that the audience will never know if they should pity or hate.

Aided by Ilie, the film explores a few interesting ideas: how many bad deeds turn us into a bad person? And can we be redeemed by a good decision? The film’s ending seems to have a very straight answer at least to the second question, but the journey there is by no means less interesting and unpredictable. Keeping an eye closed on the mayor’s nefarious deeds makes Ilie an obviously inept policeman, but is he truly a bad person? His dream of having an orchard, which he sees as a base for a happier future next to a family, and his equally inept efforts to help the dead man’s widow (Crina Semciuc) make it easier for us to understand him and more difficult to judge him.

Having seen almost all Romanian films of the last two decades, it’s hard to say whether there is another local film with a hen occupying a bigger chunk of a film's poster. This is not a tongue-in-cheek graphic design decision, as that hen is featured extensively in the film, including the very first and very last scenes. An obvious symbol of freedom and independence – or the lack thereof – this resilient little feathered character has an itinerary strongly connected with Ilie’s.

Men of Deeds was produced by Tangaj Production (Romania) and co-produced by Screening Emotions (Bulgaria) and Avanpost Production (Romania). The feature is being handled internationally by Patra Spanou.

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