'The Fixer' ('Fixeur'): Film Review

A low-impact but thoughtful social critique.

In Romania’s submission for the foreign-language film Oscar, a team of broadcast journalists chases down a scoop involving a sexually exploited girl.

A report on human trafficking is the ostensible high-road pursuit in The Fixer (Fixeur), but the journos on the case are more concerned with the "get" — an interview with a teenage prostitute — than with the person and her suffering.

Turning a steady gaze on a favorite subject of many Romanian filmmakers — societal indifference and the slow rot of corruption — Adrian Sitaru's low-key examination of careerist ambition is straightforward and well observed. The understated performances keep the proceedings involving even when the film draws ultra-obvious parallels between its protagonist's professional maneuvers and his achievement-focused parenting.

Tudor Aaron Istodor is especially good as Radu, an aspiring broadcast journalist who's still in his trial period for the Bucharest bureau of a French news outlet. Though the film sometimes overstates the character's competitive drive, Istodor's performance never does. With his knowledge of the local language, mores and political connections, Radu is the perfect facilitator, or fixer, for Gallic and other foreign correspondents on Romanian turf.

But when he's passed over for the chance to work on a breaking story involving a victim of human trafficking — and secure his place on the company's career ladder — Radu forces his boss's hand. He offers to act as go-between on the potential scoop for a high-profile French TV journalist, Axel (Mehdi Nebbou), who arrives with his cameraman, Serge (Nicolas Wanczycki), ready for action.

Before Radu meets Axel and Serge in the northern city of Bistrita to track down 14-year-old Anca (screen newcomer Diana Spatarescu, bracingly unvarnished), Sitaru establishes the push-pull between him and the young son of his divorced journalist girlfriend (Andreea Vasile). At a public pool adorned with the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger), he times the boy's laps with a stopwatch. Every moment that they're together, he reminds the boy to settle for nothing but first place, leading to an exasperated outburst against Radu's "perfectionalism."

Inspired by an actual case, the screenplay by Claudia Silisteanu and Adrian Silisteanu (the latter is Sitaru's longtime cinematographer, making his screenwriting debut) observes the chains of influence that Radu cheerfully works to gain access to Anca. Sitaru and DP Silisteanu underscore the point with a lingering shot of a government building, one of Radu's first stops.

However insistently the drama pulls together its strands, Sitaru choreographs individual scenes that are as incisive as they are unforced. Some of the strongest highlight the headline-hungry trio's righteous sense of purpose and their patronizing attitude, most often toward women. In a sequence that recalls the brilliant dark comedy of a domestic setup in Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the correspondents jam into the tiny kitchen of the girl's distraught mother (Anca Hanu), vainly attempting to smooth the way with small talk. 

Their insensitivity reaches a quiet but powerful crescendo in their interactions with the "crazy nun" at the Christian youth center where Anca has been staying since being repatriated to Romania. The men receive the mother superior's reasoned arguments, focused on the girl's protection and well-being, as attacks on freedom of the press and their professional standing.

Sitaru works a few deadpan touches of the surreal into the quietly unfolding drama: the detached prosthetic arm of a train passenger (Andrei Gajzago), a farmer taking instruction from Serge on where to look as the cameraman aims his lens at some B-roll local color.

The matters of exploitation and manipulation that Radu and his colleagues manage to ignore for most of their mission are brought to the fore when they're face-to-face with Anca. Her abductors, alerted to the presence of reporters, hover menacingly until a local cop (Adrian Titieni) sends them out of the café. But in those few minutes the girl has lost her appetite — not just for the slice of cake before her as some sort of enticement, but for the TV interview itself.

Radu gets another shot at it, one that forces him to look past his competitive jockeying and confront the reality of Anca's abduction and enslavement. In its depiction of the thrill of the chase and the primacy of The Story, Sitaru indicts himself, along with filmmakers and the media in general. When he offers redemption, it's brutally bittersweet: There's hope yet for Radu, if not for Anca.

Production companies: 4 Proof Film, Petit Film
Cast: Tudor Aaron Istodor, Mehdi Nebbou, Nicolas Wanczycki, Diana Spatarescu, Adrian Titieni, Anca Hanu, Andreea Vasile, Feli, 
Andrei Gajzago
Director: Adrian Sitaru
Screenwriters: Claudia Silisteanu, Adrian Silisteanu
Producers: Anamaria Antoci, Adrian Silisteanu
Executive producer: Titi Radoaie
Director of photography: Adrian Silisteanu
Costume designer: Adina Bucur
Editor: Mircea Olteanu
Casting director: Levente Molnár
Sales: MPM Film

99 minutes