California Dreamin’ (Nesfarsit)

Romania (2007) Dir. Cristian Nemescu

During the Kosovo War of 1999 a train carrying NATO equipment en route to Yugoslavia is escorted by a platoon of US marines, headed by Captain Doug Jones (Armand Assante). When it passes through the small backwater village of Capalnita the train is halted by corrupt station master Doiaru (Razvan Vasilescu) who refuses to let the train advance over a paperwork technicality. For five days the US soldiers are stuck in Capalnita where the villagers hopes to exploits their wealthy visitors as the burden of sorting out the paperwork issue is passed from office to office. Meanwhile, Doiaru’s rebellious daughter Monica (Maria Dinulescu) finds herself falling in love with Capt. Jones’ number two Sergeant David McLaren (Jamie Elman) but needs English speaking wimpy classmate Andrei (Alexandru Margineanu) to translate for her, unaware that he is in love with Monica.

This 2007 Prix un certain regard winner at Cannes was the last film by up and coming filmmaker Cristian Nemescu who was tragically killed in a car accident aged just 27 during the post production of the film. Therefore it was decided to release it in its unfinished form, running to 2 ½ hours in length and while it is clear to see where some parts needed tightening up, trimmed or perhaps even cut completely, it still works as it is.

Based on true events from the Kosovo War, Nemescu’s film throws in some flashback moments from WWII of Doiaru’s childhood where the Romanian’s were praying for American intervention to protect them from the onslaught of the Russian army. Since Capt. Jones and squad were the first Americans to ever set foot in Romania and indeed Capalnita this exposition gives you an idea of why Doiaru was so volatile towards the Yanks. The romance angle with Monica, desperate for a life in Bucharest away from her nothing happening life in that nothing happening town, is standard fare but never gets played out as a Romeo and Juliet tragedy not do we get the teased love triangle between Monica, Andrei and Sgt. McLaren. Whilst cynical there is something amusing at the bare faced cheek of the Mayor (Ion Sapdaru) and others in the town at their (rather successful) attempts to fleece the Americans. In a subplot which proves crucial at the end, Doiaru eyes a factory for purchase to make him money in his forthcoming retirement but the factory workers aren’t happy at this development and protest culminating in a violent riot.

Despite being rough around the edges, there is still plenty to enjoy here in what is a bare bones but honest retelling of real event. One wonders what Nemescu’s finished product would have been like or indeed what he would have produced after this but as a piece of cinematic legacy there is no doubt this is a fine opus to be left with.

Commercial appeal is limited but for the more discerning cineaste this is a melancholic tinged gem to behold.