The Way I Spent the End of the World (Comment j'ai fete la fin du monde)

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Strada Film/Les Films Pelleas

PALM SPRINGS -- Romania's Academy Award submission, "The Way I Spent the End of the World," is a child's-eye-view memory piece about the last months of Nicolae Ceausescu's regime. Full of warmth but ultimately suffering from a surfeit of incident, the debut feature by Catalin Mitulescu is one of three films on this year's Palm Springs festival schedule by young Romanian directors addressing the 1989 uprising.

At the center of the tale is Eva (Doroteea Petre), a beautiful and spirited 17-year-old whose boyfriend, Alex (Ionut Becheru), is the son of a cop. Sneaking out of class for a bit of canoodling, they end up on the wrong side of the Communist Youth Union after his boyish show of bravado leaves a bust of Ceausescu in shards. Alex, predictably, is remorseful and cooperative with authorities, but Eva's recalcitrance gets her transferred to a less prestigious -- and less dogmatic -- school. In the most telling story strand, Eva's parents urge her to reconcile with Alex, whose Party-member father can be of more than a little help. But at the surprisingly nurturing reformatory, the defiant girl befriends oddball Andrei (Cristian Vararu), whose unseen father is a dissident, and together they hatch a plan to swim across the Danube to freedom.

Eva's adoring 7-year-old brother, Lalalilu (Timotei Duma), has his own dreams of travel by water, but they involve a submarine and paying passengers. A couple of sequences of the boy's escape fantasies play nicely against the earthy small-town milieu. Mitulescu, whose boosters include Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders, has a strong feel for the community's traditions and the often messy relationships within families and among neighbors. He draws affecting performances from his cast, especially the two young leads. But he also betrays a first-film tendency to clutter the narrative with episodes. The screenplay, which he wrote with Andreea Valean, drifts in and out of focus, muting the impact of this otherwise engaging film.

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