Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: California Dreamin'

Another rewarding dark satire from Romania, the feature debut of a director who died tragically young.

Jan 23, 2009

-By Eric Monder


filmjournal/photos/stylus/68248-California_Dreamin_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Even in the title, Cristian Nemescu brings a Beckett-like sense of the absurd to California Dreamin’, the only feature from the young Romanian director who died at the age of 27. Fans of Nemescu’s earlier short films will immediately “get it,” while others will only slowly realize this documentary-style account of military activities in 1999 Romania is meant to be scorchingly funny.

Nemescu’s last work is a sociopolitical essay par excellence. In the tradition of Duck Soup, The Great Dictator, A Foreign Affair, Dr. Strangelove and Catch-22, California Dreamin’ is first and foremost a critique of buffoonish war-mongering. Specifically, Nemescu also targets Romania’s provincial corruption and NATO’s inept attempts at peacekeeping. Ergo: Should someone be investigating whether the director’s fatal 2006 car crash was really an accident?

Set during the Kosovo conflict at the end of the last century, California Dreamin’ concerns a NATO mission to install a radar system on the Romanian border in order for the Allies to spy on Serbia. The immediate problem is that a local station master, Doiaru (Razvan Vasilescu), of the town of Capalnita, won’t allow the train carrying the equipment (and the American troops) to pass through without his seeing the necessary paperwork.

While stuck in the small village, Captain Doug James (Armand Assante doing a tough-guy self-parody) and his soldiers are treated like royalty by the Mayor (Ion Sapdaru) and most of the citizens. But despite the goodwill, which is really a crude ploy by the Mayor to seek foreign investment, the stationmaster still refuses to let the train move.

Finally, matters come to a head during a village meeting that pits Doiaru’s forces against the rebellious locals and the American military. Jones and his crew finally leave Capalnita, reach their destination, and install the radar, only to find out a cease-fire has been declared in Kosovo.

Like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Romanian-born Cristi Puiu’s 2005 masterpiece, this new film (a prize-winner at Cannes) uses a hyper-realistic cinéma-vérité approach to deliver a modernist sarcastic punch. Though it runs more than two-and-a-half hours, California Dreamin’ takes place mostly in one spot—the rundown little town. And the soldiers who wait for their train to move might as well be “waiting for Godot.” While more obviously humorous than Lazarescu, California Dreamin’ contains a dark underlying message about human folly and the idiocy of war.

Apart from the devastatingly ironic ending, Nemescu’s screenplay (co-written with Tudor Voican and Catherine Linstrum) is filled with sharply witty observations and nuanced bits of business, including the subplot about Doiaru’s teenage daughter—named Monica as a homage to Ingmar Bergman’s eponymous heroine and well-played by Maria Dinulsecu—getting romantically involved with one of the young sergeants (Jamie Elman) and causing all kinds of political problems for her father and the Mayor.

All in all, California Dreamin’ is a winning, satisfying film, though the death of its director leaves a sad feeling.


Film Review: California Dreamin'

Another rewarding dark satire from Romania, the feature debut of a director who died tragically young.

Jan 23, 2009

-By Eric Monder


filmjournal/photos/stylus/68248-California_Dreamin_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Even in the title, Cristian Nemescu brings a Beckett-like sense of the absurd to California Dreamin’, the only feature from the young Romanian director who died at the age of 27. Fans of Nemescu’s earlier short films will immediately “get it,” while others will only slowly realize this documentary-style account of military activities in 1999 Romania is meant to be scorchingly funny.

Nemescu’s last work is a sociopolitical essay par excellence. In the tradition of Duck Soup, The Great Dictator, A Foreign Affair, Dr. Strangelove and Catch-22, California Dreamin’ is first and foremost a critique of buffoonish war-mongering. Specifically, Nemescu also targets Romania’s provincial corruption and NATO’s inept attempts at peacekeeping. Ergo: Should someone be investigating whether the director’s fatal 2006 car crash was really an accident?

Set during the Kosovo conflict at the end of the last century, California Dreamin’ concerns a NATO mission to install a radar system on the Romanian border in order for the Allies to spy on Serbia. The immediate problem is that a local station master, Doiaru (Razvan Vasilescu), of the town of Capalnita, won’t allow the train carrying the equipment (and the American troops) to pass through without his seeing the necessary paperwork.

While stuck in the small village, Captain Doug James (Armand Assante doing a tough-guy self-parody) and his soldiers are treated like royalty by the Mayor (Ion Sapdaru) and most of the citizens. But despite the goodwill, which is really a crude ploy by the Mayor to seek foreign investment, the stationmaster still refuses to let the train move.

Finally, matters come to a head during a village meeting that pits Doiaru’s forces against the rebellious locals and the American military. Jones and his crew finally leave Capalnita, reach their destination, and install the radar, only to find out a cease-fire has been declared in Kosovo.

Like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Romanian-born Cristi Puiu’s 2005 masterpiece, this new film (a prize-winner at Cannes) uses a hyper-realistic cinéma-vérité approach to deliver a modernist sarcastic punch. Though it runs more than two-and-a-half hours, California Dreamin’ takes place mostly in one spot—the rundown little town. And the soldiers who wait for their train to move might as well be “waiting for Godot.” While more obviously humorous than Lazarescu, California Dreamin’ contains a dark underlying message about human folly and the idiocy of war.

Apart from the devastatingly ironic ending, Nemescu’s screenplay (co-written with Tudor Voican and Catherine Linstrum) is filled with sharply witty observations and nuanced bits of business, including the subplot about Doiaru’s teenage daughter—named Monica as a homage to Ingmar Bergman’s eponymous heroine and well-played by Maria Dinulsecu—getting romantically involved with one of the young sergeants (Jamie Elman) and causing all kinds of political problems for her father and the Mayor.

All in all, California Dreamin’ is a winning, satisfying film, though the death of its director leaves a sad feeling.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Laggies
Film Review: Laggies

Disappointing comedic entry about a late-20s slacker who won’t grow up is writer/filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s first outing directing someone else’s material. Points here for strong cast and an occasional chuckle, but otherwise there’s just no point. More »

Rudderless
Film Review: Rudderless

Well-done indie drama about a lost-soul house painter reborn through rock ’n’ roll is a nice actor’s showcase for star Billy Crudup and an impressive directorial debut for actor William H. Macy. But in spite of some good work onscreen, both hero and story lack the edge and originality to carry this drama beyond respectability. More »

Camp X-Ray
Film Review: Camp X-Ray

Army guard and Guantanamo detainee form a grudging relationship in a thoughtful but far-fetched drama. More »

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Film Review: The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

As charming as it is delicate, this unusually low-key, if a tad overlong, animated feature brings yet more prestige to the famed Ghibli output. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Fury Review
Film Review: Fury

American tanks fight superior German forces in the closing days of World War II. More »

Birdman
Film Review: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Virtuosic camerawork and a stellar ensemble of actors more than make up for the occasional moment of portentous twaddle in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's latest—and maybe his best—film. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here