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DVD SAVANT

The Way I Spent the End of the World


The Way I Spent the End of the World
Film Movement
2006 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic widescreen / 106 min. / Cum mi-am petrecut sfarsitul lumii / Street Date December 4, 2007 / 19.98
Starring Doroteea Petre, Timotei Duma, Ionut Becheru, Jean Constantin, Mircea Diaconu
Cinematography Marius Panduru
Art Direction Daniel Raduta
Film Editor Cristina Ionescu
Original Music Alexander Balanescu
Written by Catalin Mitulescu, Andreea Valean
Produced by In-Ah Lee, Philippe Martin, Catalin Mitulescu, Daniel Mitulescu, Andrew J. Schorr, David Thion
Directed by Catalin Mitulescu

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Film Movement, the DVD release company that also operates as a subscription service, has released a charming and thought-provoking new film from Romania, The Way I Spent the End of the World. This is precisely the kind of Sundance award-winner that doesn't get enough exposure when the festival screenings are over. Set during the waning months of the repressive Ceaucescu regime, the story follows Eva and Lalalilu Matei, a brother and sister directly affected by the stifling Communist system. Director Catalin Mitulescu develops endearing characters while recording the reality endured by citizens considered to be against the ruling regime. In Bucharest 1989, just having a bad attitude can lead to serious hardships.

Synopsis:

It's hard times in a particular neighborhood in Bucharest, where people seem to move in (or be moved-in) after running into problems with the government. The Matei family hovers on bankruptcy, a situation that's understandable when the father plays the boogeyman for his kids -- as President Ceaucescu. Young Lalalilu (Timotei Duma) is frequently sick, and medical attention is difficult to come by. Older sister Eva (Doroteea Petre) is seeing the boy next door Alex (Alexandru Vomica), whose father is a policeman and can get Lalalilu appointments with military doctors. While horsing around at school, Alex accidentally breaks a bust of Ceaucescu. His father pulls strings, so only Eva goes before a 'teachers and students' court. She refuses to defend herself and is sent to a reform school, where tough boys make obscene advances and the only teaching is training for menial factory jobs. Blamed for her bad attitude, Eva finds more trouble when she's attracted to a new neighbor boy whose parents' political fortunes are even worse. Eva trains with him on a secret mission to escape from Romania by swimming the Danube river. Meanwhile, young Lalalilu plays the perfect student, writing patriotic poetry so as to be chosen to perform at a school celebration to be attended by the President. The seven year-old's plan? Assassinate Ceaucescu!

Only after the fall of the Soviet Union and the loosening of regimes in its satellite countries (well, most of them) have we seen films about life behind the Iron Curtain made by the people who lived through it. The best example this year is the impressive The Lives of Others, a harrowing thriller about the activities of the dreaded Stasi secret police in East Germany.

We've read horror stories about the rule of Nicolae Ceaucescu in Romania but The Way I Spent the End of the World gives us a sampling of the mundane miseries of living in just such a 'worker's paradise.' Cleverly told through the experiences of a child and his older sister, Catalin Mitulescu's show is a depressing Romanian version of American Graffiti. Eva and Lalalilu attend schools where the main order of business is dispensing government propaganda. The teacher bureaucrats start and stop every activity with the national anthem and other songs and recitations directly praising the President; every session of class seems to be a preparation for some kind of pro-Ceaucescu rally or demonstration.

Eva is directly impacted by the unfairness of this 'mundane tyranny'. She likes her cute neighbor Alex, but he thinks he can maneuver her into sex because his dad's in the police. The incident with the broken statue becomes a harsh lesson. Alex broke the thing but is rendered untouchable by his family connection. That leaves Eva, who's too proud to play games of self-accusation. She already knows that the faculty and student body will send her to the reformatory, simply because she's been accused. In the 'democratic' trial Alex even votes against Eve, a betrayal that further radicalizes her thinking. Eva becomes sullen when her own mother encourages her to make up with Alex so that Lalalilu can start getting his medicine again. It's no wonder that the teenager is drawn to a boy at reform school who distinguishes himself by refusing to put up with bullies. The boy is a closet romantic as well, and Eva is so enamored of him that she willingly joins him in a secret partnership to escape Romania. As trust is part of the bargain, they undress for each other, to show in stages that they're afraid of nothing and are truly ready to commit. They douse themselves in ice water in preparation to swim the cold Danube. In most ways an ordinary girl without lofty ideals, Eva will find out if she has the makings of a revolutionary.

Little Lalalilu and his mischievous friends run wild in the neighborhood, pulling pranks and interacting with the motley assortment of unemployed men, most of whom are alcoholics. Lalalilu has fantasies of transporting the whole neighborhood to other countries in his neighbor's broken car, like a super taxi driver. The cute little kid is still coddled by his mother and sister, but he concocts a harebrained scheme that could potentially cause much more trouble than his sister's subversive activities.

The Way I Spent the End of the World pays off as a story of these attractive, naíve kids, who are as shocked as everyone else when 'the world ends' and Ceaucescu's rule comes to an abrupt finish. Nobody's plans work out as expected and the rush to revolution makes some people into involuntary martyrs, but the dream does come true. Eastern Europe has transformed so quickly that movies like The Way I Spent the End of the World and The Lives of Others function as a repository of recent memory. Old art is preserved in museums but how we lived twenty years ago can be forgotten entirely. What did you do before the Internet?


Film Movement's DVD of The Way I Spent the End of the World is a beautiful transfer of this very nicely assembled picture. The charming Doroteea Petre is a convincing girl-next-door heartbreaker and little Timotei Duma is cute without overdoing it. It's a great film to watch while counting one's own blessings, politically speaking.

The extra short film is The Last Man in Brooklyn by Roberto Bentivegna, a lightweight essay about two scavengers in a post-nuclear world who fight over a plastic blow-up doll. Its main source of humor is a Sergio Leone-like gunfighter showdown.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Way I Spent the End of the World rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: three text bios, extra short film.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 12, 2007



DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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