53rd Chicago Int’l Film Fest #14: “Charleston” (Romania/France)

“Charleston” (Romania/France)
Directed by Andreï Cretilescu

Charleston3Andreï Cretilescu’s “Charleston” is a classic Romanian black comedy. Like last year’s brilliant “Sieraneveada”, it is very clever, often laugh-out-loud funny, earnest and heartwarming. But whereas the latter could sustain its almost three hours in length due the richness of its many characters, “Charlston”, takes about thirty minutes because it’s really no more than a fascinating interlude between two men (albeit connected in a very, very serious way).

Taking place in the days after our uber-masculine protagonist has suffered the sudden loss of wife to a terrible accident, it starts out as a morose observation of shock, grieving and loneliness. But, very quickly, Cretilescu’s script pushes the boundaries to challenge this new widower in about as severe a way as one can. That this challenge comes in the form of a tiny sliver of a man makes for a juxtaposition reminiscent of “Midnight Run”. Because the stakes are so high, the humor really is that gripping, believable, and uncomfortably easy.

However, someone should have told the director that this plot can not be sustained for a full two hours, no matter how excellent the performances are and no matter how astonishingly simple and lovely its ending is. Serban Pavlu, an Eastern European Jeffrey Dean Morgan, outwardly shows very little of Alexandru’s inner rage, but that rage is present, just below the surface, in every turn of phrase, glance, and small physical activity, whether it be pouring a glass of wine, putting on his sunglasses, or feeding the cat. Without this pain, the situations would have no chance to crackle. His counterpart, the meek & over-sharing Sebastian, played to perfection by Radu Iacoban, is a mix of stuttering, darting eyes, and sincerity. Together they make the film zing…and sob.

The surrounding environment of the film never really gets a chance to shine, and there was some semblance of a subplot that isn’t explored with any detail…and thank god…it might have added another twenty minutes. But the production elements are all there, including a fittingly absurd soundtrack (with a score by Massimiliano Nardulli)…never more so than during a bizarre dance scene that rings in the second act of the film.

I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t love this film…I did, actually. But, if it had tightened up just a touch, it would have been (and should have been) all the more exceptional. If it ever shows up near you, it’s absolutely worth your investment.

(This is a bizarre trailer since none of the brilliant humor is portrayed…so, maybe skip it?)

Written on 10/26/2017

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