12:08 East of Bucharest (Romania; 89min.)

directed by: Corneliu Porumboiu
Mircea Andreescu, Teodor Corban, Ion Sapdaru; , Cristina Ciofu
A fost sau n-a fost?

Beth says: "This was a Rumanian film about a small town TV station owner/call-in show host who decides to mark the 16th anniversary of the Communist overthrow by having a special show, in which he asks two men to debate 'did the revolution take place in our town'. The best part of this film was the actor playing the crotchedly old man best known for his years of playing Santa around town. He was hysterical and poignant all at once, in this exploration of the role history and moments in history play in individual's sense of self and personal memories. 3 cats

"12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST screened at the Toronto International Film Festival"


Bruce says: "All eyes are on Romania these days. Cristian Mungiu’s 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS and 2 DAYS won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year (2007) and another Romanian film, Cristian Nemescu’s CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’, took honors in the Un Certain Regard competition. Meanwhile, THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU from 2005 is on its way to becoming a cult classic.

"Thus, 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST arrives in elite company. Unlike the others (well perhaps not CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’), this film is a comedy and a very deadpan one at that. It is also an extraordinary shaggy dog story; it really is about nothing. The film does have a purpose, however. It presents a rural, post-Soviet Romania to its audience. The battle scars from the Soviet era are still visible and it is difficult to imagine the current generation comfortably leaving their painful experiences behind.

"The premise is slight. Virgil Jderescu (Teodor Corban), a self-appointed talk show host wants to celebrate Romanian independence by determining whether or not the residents of his village took part in the revolution of December 1989. To accomplish this end, he invites two townsmen to be panelists on his show. They qualify because they were known to have been in the town square on the night December 22nd. One, Tiberiu Manescu (Ion Sapdaru), is a history teacher who also is the town drunk; the other, Emanoil Piscoci (Mircea Andreescu), is the fondly remembered, now retired, local Santa Claus, a role one suspects may have been challenging for him, even in his prime. Calling it the 'Issue of the Day' Virgil asks each guest, 'Was there a revolution or not in our town?' During the show viewers call in to participate in the discussion and to question the three men. The proceedings are best described as goofy, not the bizarre type of goofy but the laugh aloud variety. In fact, the entire audience was laughing aloud.

"We are allowed to visit the homes of the three men before the show. They live in Soviet-style housing developments, poorly made with no redeeming aesthetic value. This intrusion gives us a bit of insight into their character and background. A subplot involves Chen, a Chinese merchant whom the teacher has insulted at the local bar the night before. As an outsider he has the best vantage point. 'I don’t like the way you Romanians treat one another.' Best he did not say such a thing during the Ceausescu days. 4.5 cats"

Jason says: "Corneliu Porumboiu has an interesting question or two to ask in 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST. He's got a nice cast playing interesting characters. What he doesn't really have is a story. You can do without, but ninety minutes is a lot of time for atmosphere and setup without a real payoff.

"It's the sixteenth anniversery of the fall of communism in Romania, and Virgil Jderescu (Teodor Corban) wants to discuss his town's part in that on his televised panel show. He's having trouble finding people interested in participating, though - the revolution just isn't something that many modern day Romanians give much thought to. He winds up settling for Tiberiu Manescu (Ion Sapdaru), a college professor who was among the first protesting in the town square that day but now concerns himself with a massive bar tab among other debts, and Emanoli Piscoli (Mircea Andreescu), the old man known for playing Santa Claus at the school every Christmas. They wind up blindsided by the question Jderescu asks - was there a revolution in their town, or did they just come out until after everything had been done?

"That's a hugely loaded question, one which potentially indicts the entire community for their passivity. The twenty minutes or so after Jderescu poses that question are a real-time single shot of his talk show, held through the commercial breaks so that we can see Jderescu and Manescu fight over how the latter is being treated. It's a nicely staged bit of tension, with Manescu feeling blindsided, Jderescu realizing that he has kicked over a hornets' nest, and Piscoli affably trying to smooth things over but demonstrating that age doesn't necessarily bring wisdom or expertise. The scene is contentious, but also funny - Andreescu almost always has a sort of goofy look on his face, and the poor camera work emphasizes what a small-time operation Jderescu's station is, pointing out that for all the passion Manescu and Jderescu and their callers invest, it doesn't really matter to more than a handful of people.

"As clever a set piece as that show is, the movie does kind of peter out afterward. It's written like a friendship-destroying confrontation, but the beginning of the movie doesn't establish much connection between the characters. They each have their own little stories that establish who they are, but their stories are separate, intersecting mainly in how they're annoyed by children setting off fireworks. It establishes that in some ways, the town isn't very different than it was under the communists - there's still not enough to go around - but it doesn't tell us anything particularly interesting about our lead trio. It almost feels like padding. Not quite - there are some nice bits in there - but I wouldn't be shocked if Porumboiu had started from the TV broadcast and filled in around that.

"It's a shame, really. There's the start of a really clever movie (or something else) in what happens once the action reaches the TV station, but the stuff Porumboiu surrounds it with isn't quite up to the same standard. 3 cats

"Seen 8 February 2008 in Jay's Living Room (rental DVD/Chlotrudis buried treasure)"