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TIFF 2014 - Closer to the Moon: A wonderful and bold revision of Romanian History
© Tara Karajica
First Publication: altcine 7-6-2014
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Nae Caranfil shows his deep passion for cinema and interest in the revision of Romanian History by making films about films. After his 2007 The Rest is Silence, he is back with Closer to the Moon, the most expensive Romanian film to date and a co-production between Romania, USA, Italy and Poland. It premiered last November at the Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema festival held at the Film Society of Lincoln Centre and has now screened at the 13th edition of the Transylvania International Film Festival

Based on true events that took place in 1959, Closer to the Moon follows a daring heist carried out by high-ranking Jewish members of the Romanian Communist Party. In order to execute their robbery the Ioanid gang (or the Rosenthal gang as it is called in the film) members pretended to be shooting a film while being applauded by passers-by and a curious audience. After they were arrested and condemned to death, they were forced by the government to star in a (false) propaganda film about the robbery. The story is told through the eyes of Virgil, who witnessed the robbery while working as a waiter in a café situated across from the bank. Captivated and believing to have witnessed the making of the first Romanian action film, he decides to become a cameraman. 

Caranfil’s film is reminiscent of one of the masterpieces of Romanian Cinema, the 1968 black-and-white The Reenactment by Lucian Pintilie that also deals, as its title suggests, with a filmed reenactment of a crime. As both films imply, the secret police agency of Communist Romania, the Securitate, went to great lengths in its “revision” of History and in the (re)shooting of it. It is, however, not the only film about the 1959 events. There are two documentaries: the 2004 Great Communist Bank Robbery by Alexandru Solomon and the highly praised 2001 Reconstruction by Irene Lusztig, the granddaughter of Monica Sevianu (here called Alice).

Caranfil sees the protagonists as fully aware of the sociopolitical absurdity that surrounds them and yet, the director does not give his film any individual point of view, making Virgil, his made-up character a merging point for the other meandering parts of his plot such as the insomniac Securitate official obsessed with finding out the motive of the robbery, the drunken director of the propaganda film or Virgil’s landlord, the anti-bolshevik Jew. With Closer to the Moon, Caranfil does not contemplate Romania’s past nor is he willing to support one single version of the events he recounts, thus wishing to make a case against manipulation. In that, he has made an audacious yet much nicer, romanticized (especially taking into account the multiple references to the moon) and perhaps even laudatory version of the 1959 events and its consequences. Moreover, there are also many references to Cinema, with which the director further demonstrates his passion for the Seventh Art and pays homage to it every step of the way. 

As far as the acting is concerned, the cast, mainly British and comprised of Vera Farmiga, Mark Strong, Harry Lloyd among many others, is evenly exceptional. The technical details as well as Doina Levinta’s costumes and the choice of music are also top-notch. 

All in all, Closer to the Moon, with its tragico-burlesque tone, stellar cast and Caranfil’s new and uncompromising vision is a bold, edifying and marvelous history lesson as well as a courageous contribution not only to the Romanian New Wave but also to cinema in general.

  The Reenactment
  Closer to the Moon
  Lucian Pintilie
  Nae Caranfil
  Doina Levinta
  Alexandru Solomon
  Vera Farmiga
  Mark Strong
  Harry Lloyd
  Transilvania International Film Festival
  Mandragora Movies
  TIFF 2014 - Interview with Nae Caranfil: “I always try to manipulate with my movies: this is the main reason artists create… to lie beautifully”
  altcine Explore movies by Country People To read
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