Stuff and Dough (Marta si bani, Romania 2001)

The trio on the road

The trio on the road

This was a feature in the European Catalyst programme at the Leeds International Film Festival. It was there as the first example of what the Catalogue termed the Romanian New Wave. I have to say that I am sceptical of the notion of a Romanian New Wave. There have certainly been some interesting films produced in Romania in the last few years. 4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 days (4 luni, 3 saptamini si 2 zile, 2008) was the best, though also the most downbeat of those I have seen. However, I tend to think of ‘new waves’ in terms of the nouvelle vague or of Dogme 95, where there is both a recognisable group and a coherent approach which is distinctive and which to some extent subverts the conventional, even in art cinemas.

If there is a Romanian New Wave then this feature did not inspire my interest. It was the most unrewarding of all the films I saw during the Festival. The basic plot follows two young men with a girlfriend who drive from a coastal town to Bucharest. They are carrying, for money, a bag of medical products. You might surmise that the medicines turn out to be something less healthy and more illegitimate.

Most of the film follows the journey of the trio, with disruptions caused both by other groups and their own inexperience. For me the journey went on far too long: I actually found this film (running 90 minutes) seemingly longer than the several three-hour epics also in the retrospective. I friend said the film reminded him in an odd sort of way of Mean Streets (1973). And it did have the tone, but not the skill, of early films by Martin Scorsese.

Moreover, I got little sense of any distinctive Romanian culture or situation. The Catalogue suggested the film offered “incisive reflections of his home country”, [i.e. the Romanian director Cristi Puiu). In fact I found the film rather conventional in both plot and the contradictions faced by the characters. It did not help that the film was screened in a not very good quality 35mm print. There were only ten celluloid prints during the Festival and this was likely the worse.

My feelings were that the concept of European Catalyst film did not really embrace this film. In fact I am not convinced about the worth of the concept itself. Still I have attended Festivals where the worse film in the programme was below the standard of this feature!

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