Closer to the Moon
Messy caper based on a tragic true story, with Vera Farmiga and Mark Strong
It’s worth reading up on the bizarre and chilling true story upon which writer-director Nae Caranfil's messy caper is based: a 1959 bank heist in Communist Romania, either committed by a group of Jewish intellectuals or staged in order to smear them, and then re-enacted on camera as state propaganda with the incarcerated culprits playing themselves. Confused? So is this film, but sadly not in a way that suits or services its intriguing material.
The intense, sardonic and emotional tone that characterises the recent masterpieces of the Romanian New Wave – The Death of Mr Lazarescu; 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days – would have suited this story down to the ground, but this is an American co-production, spoken in English, and pseudo-Hollywood gloss and jauntiness is the order of the day. Bad wigs abound, bad music rarely lets up, and even though there are some highly likable actors onscreen – Vera Farmiga, Mark Strong, Christian McKay – bad acting is rife. It’s not unusual for performances to slip out of control when directors are not working in their first language, and that phenomenon might be to blame for both the showiness and the mad array of accents we encounter here.
But presentation is only part of the problem. What’s really off-putting is how haphazardly mood and atmosphere are judged. In what are literally life-or-death circumstances, real emotion is swamped by clunky comedy and pantomime antics, while what’s really darkly funny about the story and what it says about communism, art and antisemitism seems to slip away. This film deserves credit for bringing a story well-known in Romania to wider view, and it has some moments that effectively convey the weirdness with which it deals; but for the most part it’s a missed opportunity, marred by a lack of narrative conviction and tonal cohesion.
Selected release from Fri 13 Nov.