THE OAK (Lucian Pintilie, 1992)

Although writer-director Lucian Pintilie tries for Kusturícan rambunctious humor, I found his partly picaresque Balanta, based on the novel by Ion Baiescu, dispiriting and rough going. The fall of Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1989 brought Pintilie back to Romania, where he was appointed head of the Ministry of Culture’s film studio, in which capacity he fell into fresh political disfavor with President Ion Iliescu. His Balanta satirically targets, however, the Ceauşescu reign, portraying an atmosphere of moral disarray. After the death of her father, who was living in her Bucharest projects apartment and under her care, schoolteacher Nela hits the road and heads for the provinces, where a new job awaits her. In a sense, though, it is the corpse that is the film’s protagonist. Near the film’s opening, Nela’s black-and-white dreaming of her father, whom she idolizes, coincides with the running of a color home movie of them, along with the rest of the family, when she was a little girl at Christmastime. Discovering he is dead in bed, Nela tries donating her father’s hallowed body to science, but it is rejected for its degree of deterioration and the fact that refrigeration for storing it is nowhere to be found! Nela’s father’s corpse, then, symbolizes Ceauşescu’s Romania, while Nela embodies Romania’s attempt to grapple with this past. Nela unearths truths about her father, who, it turns out, was a high-ranking member of the Securitate, Ceauşescu’s secret police. All kinds of vicious and brutal behavior she encounters either by observation or experience, including armed and dangerous schoolchildren and gang rape, are intended to reflect the outcomes of her father’s hidden world. Nela must face an uncertain future without illusions.
     For me, at least, Pintilie’s film exists at too many symbolical removes. Overtones become the only tones.


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