Romania on a roll
In Cristian Nemescu's California Dreamin' (Endless), a company of US soldiers en route to back up Nato air strikes in Kosovo is stranded in a Romanian town. Blocking the way is the local stationmaster and the town's de facto ruler, who demands paperwork that the Americans don't have.
He bears all the hallmarks of a corrupt, communist-era bureaucrat, but says he has been waiting for Americans to come to town ever since the end of the second world war. Meanwhile, the town mayor and most of the villagers also see the Americans as their saviours: much terrorised by the thug and his heavies, they plead for the soldiers to back their efforts in driving the brutes out of town.
The film, which starrs Armand Assante (pictured, far right) as the commander of the stranded soldiers, won the Un Certain Regard competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Some critics say it's a thinly veiled allegory of Americans storming into foreign lands, inciting rebellion against a local despot, then leaving both parties to slaughter each other. But according to Romanian film critic and cinema studies scholar Andrei Gorzo, far more revealing is 'how little the Americans have to do to drive the locals crazy'.
'All they have to do is be American,' he says. 'As a metaphor for America's involvement in local matters, the film seems shaky to me, but as a metaphor for the local - and universal - obsession with America, it's great.'
Gorzo says the film may be 'dreaming about California', but its success at Cannes - alongside Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which won the Palme d'Or at the festival's main competition - shows that Romania is becoming better known in cinema.
Romanian filmmakers have been well represented in Cannes for the past few years: Corneliu Porumboiu took home the Camera d'Or last year; and Cristi Puiu won the Un Certain Regard category in 2005 with The Death of Mr Lazarescu. The country has also provided picturesque locations for inter-national productions such as Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain. And Romiania will feature later this year with the release of Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Before Youth, an adaptation of a Romanian novella, with a mostly Romanian cast and crew.
'The arrival of foreign productions has provided a lot of Romanian film professionals with steady employment,' Gorzo says. 'And it may have contributed to the local feeling that, although tiny as a film industry - eight or nine releases a year - Romania can become a cinematic powerhouse.
'But it's the quality of the Romanian films that created this feeling. Until now, this quality has depended on their being Romanian stories acted out by Romanians in Romanian. I think it will continue to be so.'
California Dreamin' (Endless), Aug 13, Hong Kong Arts Centre; Aug 25, Hong Kong Film Archive (part of Summer IFF); 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days opens in Hong Kong in the autumn