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LOCARNO — It’s sometimes said that cinema’s power lies in letting us see the world through other people’s eyes, an idea taken to a literal extreme by Romanian writer/director Adrian Sitaru. As in his 2008 debut Hooked, his technique in the talky, family-centered drama Best Intentions relies on subjective, point-of-view camerawork to an extent seldom matched since Robert Montgomery’s 1947 noir The Lady in the Lake.
Stripped of this unusual gimmick, however, Best Intentions is just a solid, cookie-cutter example of current Romanian art cinema. And while the ongoing popularity of that country’s 21st-century New Wave will ensure festival play, breakout success seems a longshot for this well-acted Hungarian co-production.
The intentions in question are those of thirtyish Alex (Bogdan Dumitrache) regarding his sixtyish mother (Natasa Raab). In the opening scene, Alex learns that his beloved mama has had a minor stroke and rushes cross-country to her hospital bedside, the first of several such visits.
As with Cristi Puiu’s influential Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005), Romanian healthcare deficiencies are a running undercurrent: Sound designer Tamas Zanyi adds loud fly-buzzing to nearly every scene within the hospital’s walls – unsubtly nudging us towards sympathizing with Alex’s discontents.
Indeed, Alex emerges as a worrywart of the first order, his filial devotion so excessive we deduce he’s perhaps making up for past negligence.
The childless Alex, it’s implied, might not be so mama-fixated if he had a kid or two of his own to think about – he’s also clearly not yet adult enough to fully accept his parents’ mortality (and, by extension, his own.) Sitaru gives us plenty of time to ponder such character traits,taking over 100 minutes to relate a fairly simple story of mild family dysfunction. Indeed, a tougher editor could have brought it in around Hooked‘s 82-minute duration.
A tense three-hander, Sitaru’sself-edited debut feature was told entirely via POV, adding to the claustrophobic atmosphere of mistrust and paying dividends with an ambiguous finale. In Best Intentions, the vast majority of the sequences are again POV — but not all, and the switches back and forth between subjective and objective angles feel distractingly arbitrary rather than the result of coherent storytelling considerations.
Also, on several occasions we observe events from the perspective of a nearby individual who’s evidently insatiably nosy and is fixated upon Alex’s doings to an implausibly hawk-like, intrusive degree. At a couple of junctures, the “rules” of subjective camerawork are sloppily disregarded.
That said, Attila Pfeffer’s Steadicam work is a consistent plus, fluently propelling us through scenes that are then often abruptly truncated by editor Andrei Gorgan, adding to the jangly edginess that fits with the antsy impatience of our well-meaning protagonist.
Venue: Locarno Film Festival
Production company: Hifilm Productions in collaboration with Cor Leonis Films and 4Proof Film.
Cast: Bogdan Dumitrache, Natasa Raab, Marian Ralea, Alina Grigore
Director/screenwriter: Adrian Sitaru
Producer: Ada Solomon
Director of photography: Adrian Silisteanus
Music: Cornel Ilie.
Editor: Andrei Gorgan
Sales: Films Boutique, Berlin
No rating, 103 minutes
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