California Dreamin' (Endless)

154 minutes

The quandary put to anyone writing about California Dreamin' is unusual: what are you supposed to say about an unfinished debut film released “as is” after its director's tragic death? It's impossible to compare it to previous, non-existant features, or to gauge what would have been corrected or reworked in post-production. Certainly, the sprawling length and sidebar plots that bloat Cristian Nemescu's sole feature to its unwieldy 150-minute length could have been trimmed – but by how much, or how tightly?
     Still, it's undeniable that the late director, tragically killed at 27 in a car accident shortly after starting on the editing of California Dreamin', was a talent worth following, and his film one of the most personal visions in the remarkable new wave of Romanian cinema let loose by Cristi Puiu's harrowing, masterful The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Working in the same roving, hand-held camera mode and expertly performed long takes of most of his compatriots, mr. Nemescu relied on more conventional editing while expanding his story, co-written with Tudor Voican and based on actual facts, well beyond anecdotal satire. Inspired by the tale of a NATO convoy to Kosovo held up at a Romanian village in 1999, mr. Nemescu runs with it as a rowdy, edgily funny denunciation of petty grievances, mindless bureaucracy and institutionalised corruption in Capalnita, a small village left to fend for itself and pretty much run by the venal stationmaster (a superb Razvan Vasilescu), until his greed has him stop a military train to Kosovo with a small company of US Marines led by a martinet captain (a surprising Armand Assante) and things spiral out of control.
     The bleak, disenchanted clarity of the satire and the cast's ability to nuance their characters, however, are offset by a clumsy construction full of needless diversions into side plots to nowhere; for all his formal control, mr. Nemescu had most likely not yet found the final tempo and structure of his film, making this posthumous release a fascinating, if insufficient, glimpse into a talent tragically cut short before it reached its full measure.

Starring Armand Assante, Razvan Vasilescu, Jamie Elman, Maria Dinulescu, Ion Sapdaru, Alex Magineanu, Ardi Vasluianu, Gabriel Spahiu, Catalina Mustata, Radu Gabriel, Marco Assante. 
     Directed by Cristian Nemescu; produced by Andrei Boncea; written by mr. Nemescu, Tudor Voican, with additional dialogue by Catherine Lindstrum; director of photography (colour, processing by Kodak Cinelabs Romania, widescreen), Liviu Maghidan; production designer, Ioana Caciora; costume designer, Ana Ioneci; film editor, Catalin Cristutiu. 
     A Mediapro Pictures presentation/production, supported by the Romanian National Film Centre. (Romanian distribution and world sales, Mediapro Pictures. US distributor, IFC Films.)


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