Rocker: San Sebastian Review

Downbeat study of domestic and social dysfunction in provincial Romania never quite clicks into gear.

Romanian writer-director Marian Crisan's follow-up to the warmly-received 'Morgen' stars stage actor Dan Choirean as a struggling single parent.

The sins of the son are visited upon the father in Rocker, Romanian writer-director Marian Crişan’s grimly low-key sophomore feature. Crişan’s Megatron (2008) won the short-film Palme d’Or at Cannes and Morgen (2010), a humanistic tale of cross-border, inter-cultural friendship, played literally dozens of festivals around the world, picking up numerous awards along the way. But it’s hard to see this much bleaker effort, premiering in San Sebastian’s competitive and lucrative ‘New Directors’ sidebar, enjoying that kind of exposure or acclaim. Indeed, the co-production with France and Germany offers further evidence to suggest that the Romanian New Wave has settled into a torpid ebb-phase.

Primarily a character-study of fortysomething Victor, the ‘Rocker’ of the title, the picture does give a meaty role to experienced stage actor Dan Chiorean, an unfamiliar and very lived-in big-screen face. Widower Victor shares a grubby apartment with his son Florin (Alin State) in a rough section of provincial city Oradea, and supplements his occasional job on a landscape-surveying road-team with inexpert forays into small-scale criminality. Much of his income goes to supporting Florin’s heroin addiction, enabling the volatile lad to spend his waking hours rehearsing with punk band the Iguanas.

But while Victor himself clearly retains a certain streak of anti-authority rebelliousness, he also longs to settle down with his much more conventional girlfriend (Ofelia Popii) who has a young son of her own. Victor’s interactions with the kid have a warmth and energy lacking in his dealings with his own biological offspring - joyless routines which include Victor helping Florin obtain drugs and even injecting them between his toes. Both father and son seek escape through alcoholic, chemical and musical means, though despite the title we don’t really learn that much about Victor’s own musical preferences and background apart from his suspiciously fresh-looking AC/DC t-shirt.

Instead we observe him via Tudor Mircea's widescreen 35mm images as he goes about his humdrum daily business. This including some patience-taxing interludes such as his long, long trek to work after Florin has disposed of the family car. At such times Crişan almost seems to be parodying the unadorned austerity of recent Romanian cinema – indeed, there’s even a fleeting dialogue reference which disparages the New Wave directors’ excesses. Unfortunately he brings very little that’s new to the table in terms of script, visuals or atmosphere – even the unusual setting of Oradea is barely exploited - so that Rocker feels more like a series of cover-versions rather than the fresh material that paying audiences are entitled to expect.

Venue: San Sebastian - Donostia Film Festival, Spain (New Directors), September 23, 2012.

Production company: Mandragora
Cast: Dan Chiorean, Alin State, Ofelia Popii, Crina Semciuc, Richard Balint, Daniel Vulcu
Director / Screenwriter: Marian Crişan
Producer: Anca Puiu
Co-producers: Marianne Slot, Undine Filter
Director of photography: Tudor Mircea
Production designer / Costume designer: Alexandra Ungureanu
Editor: Tudor Pojoni
Sales agent: Les Films du Losange, Paris

No MPAA rating, 91 minutes