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Subtitle geeks looking for a break from the austere misery — however masterfully crafted — of the Romanian New Wave could do worse than check out Two Lottery Tickets (Doua Iozuri), a scrappy but at times uproarious Romanian comedy written and directed by Paul Negoescu (the much more serious A Month in Thailand). Shot by cinematographer Ana Draghici to look like a faded Polaroid photograph that evokes summers long gone, this cinematic divertissement is based on a short story by revered Romanian playwright and humorist Ion Luca Caragiale that also inspired an earlier, eponymous 1957 film, though the plots are sufficiently different to enjoy one without necessarily spoiling the other.
Two Lottery Tickets stars three noted Romanian actors, including New Wave mainstay Dragos Bucur (the lead of films such as Police, Adjective and this year’s Un Certain Regard entry Dogs), as a trio of down-on-their-luck pals who lose their winning lottery ticket, which sends them on an epic search to retrieve it. But the acting threesome, completed by Dorian Boguta and Alexandru Papadopol, doesn’t just star but also commissioned and produced the feature through their acting school, with their students filling out the large roster of supporting roles. Their previous collaborative comedy made in a similar way, 2013’s Love Building, become the country’s highest-grossing independent film and spawned a sequel, which suggests this feature also could become a hot ticket when it opens in the fall. It was a crowd-pleaser at the recent Transylvania International Film Festival, where it premiered.
Mustachioed Dinel (Boguta, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) is a car mechanic in a small town not far from Bucharest who hopes to make enough money to convince his wife to come back to Romania from Italy, where it seems she might be getting rather cozy with a local macho. Dinel drinks to forget his troubles at the local watering hole with the two only other men present, his friends Vasile (Bucur), or Sile for short, a gambling addict with a wild beard, and the recently shaved Pompiliu (Papadopol, Tales From the Golden Age), perhaps the most cautious of the three. Due to the hazardous combination of alcohol and self-pity, they end up buying a lottery ticket and coming up with a series of lucky numbers, hoping it’ll end all their troubles.
But when they find out they’ve won some days later, more troubles begin, as in the meantime, the fanny pack containing their ticket was stolen. This sends them on a madcap hunt around their own village and then to Bucharest, hunting for clues about the whereabouts of the thieves and, hopefully, the ticket.
Road movies are a dime a dozen, and what counts are whether what happens to the characters is entertaining and whether they manage to sustain audience interest. On both those counts, Two Lottery Tickets not only works but is an actual crowd-pleaser. There are several set-pieces that are executed with a flair for not only comedic timing but also mise-en-scene, such as when the three men go from door to door in the nondescript apartment building where the fanny pack was stolen, trying to find out whether the inhabitants might have either noticed anything in particular or whether the thieves might even be living in the same building. These two contrasting missions alone generate plenty of comic fodder, with Negoescu expertly using the space around the central staircase to elicit further chuckles — “Have we been here already?” — while every apartment gets its own little sketch which allows the school’s acting students to each get their moment. Drug dealers, prostitutes, gullible children and even a clairvoyant are hiding behind all those identical doors, with the men having completed half an odyssey before they even get into their car to start looking elsewhere.
Though the sketch-like nature of the narrative is logical given the film’s objective — to give a large group all small roles in a feature — and its chosen genre, it has to be said that with the exception of a colorblind Bucharest policeman (who stars in one of the few sequences that elicits a solid belly laugh), the supporting characters may derive chuckles in their interaction with the leads but none really manage to register as people before they disappear. With more screen time and most of the comedic material at their disposal, the main leads leave more of an impression. They also have perfect chemistry, as earlier demonstrated in Love Building, and their relaxed banter and the frequent moments of hilarity caused by their different personas are highly enjoyable — a police-station sequence in which the trio disagree on how much the cops should know is especially telling in this regard.
There are some references to Romanian cinema (and to Romania’s Got Talent) that feel a little too self-conscious; though the film’s color palette and tone is certainly far removed from the local New Wave, Negoescu and Draghici’s reliance on medium and wide shots and a complete absence of closeups — a potentially powerful weapon in comedy — betray at least some stylistic affinity with the nation’s current cinematic output (Negoescu’s debut feature could be described as a New Wave film). And though the pic is a comedy, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a slightly more serious undertow to the material, which explores issues such as corruption, poverty, chance and happiness.
Though Two Lottery Tickets’ budget must have been modest, there is no sense that compromises had to be made to tell the story currently onscreen. The standout technical credit, beyond the cinematography, is the guitar-driven score, which at times infuses the film with something of a country vibe.
Venue: Transylvania International Film Festival
Production company: Actoriedefilm.ro
Cast: Dorian Boguta, Dragos Bucur, Alexandru Papadopol
Writer-director: Paul Negoescu; screenplay based on a short story by Ion Luca Caragiale
Producers: Dorian Boguta, Dragos Bucur, Alexandru Papadopol
Director of photography: Ana Draghici
Production designer-costume designer: Malina Ionescu
Editor: Alexandru Radu
Not rated, 86 minutes
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