California Dreamin’ (Endless)
Tragically Cristian Nemescu, the 27 year-old writer-director of California Dreamin’ died in a car crash whilst working on the post-production of this richly ambitious film (together with his sound designer Andrei Toncu), hence the bracketed addition to the title. Who knows what alterations Nemescu might have made? In any case the version being released is terrific in its own right – darkly ironic, consistently amusing and ultimately tragic.
Beginning with a black-and-white Allied bombing raid on a Romanian apartment block towards the end of World War Two, the bulk of California Dreamin’ unwinds in the summer of 1999, whilst fighting is underway in Kosovo. A NATO train, guarded by US Marines under the command of Captain Jones (Armand Assante), is transporting radar communication across Romania to the Serbian border. At the village of Capalnita, the corrupt stationmaster Doiaru (Razvan Vasilescu), who has been nursing a grudge against the Americans for decades, simply refuses to let the transport pass without the correct customs papers. And the mayor (Ion Sapdaru) insists that whilst the soldiers wait for the impasse to be resolved, they must partake of the hospitality at the local festivities, which includes an Elvis impersonator.
What elevates this above being simply a Balkan farce, complete with cultural misunderstandings, is Nemescu’s ability to move between multiple storylines, his interest in a whole range of characters and the quality of the performances. The young women of the community, including rebellious teenager Monica (Maria Dinulescu), flock to meet the newcomers, hoping to escape their dead-end existence in Capalnita. Such is Monica’s erotic charge that a bout of frantic lovemaking at a party with Jones’s Sergeant (Jamie Elman) triggers a widespread power blackout.
The dynamically shot California Dreamin’ is in part a satire on the corruption and bureaucratic paralysis of post-Ceausescu Romania, yet it’s equally biting in its allegorical treatment of American foreign policy. For having encouraged conflict, these forces of intervention simply move on to their next destination, unaware of the bloodshed they leave in their wake.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected cinemas from Fri 30 May.