COLLECTIVE – movie review

Magnolia Pictures/Participant
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alexander Nanau
Writer: Alexander Nanau, Antoaneta Opris
Cast: Narcis Hogea, Catalink Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Camelia Roiu
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/12/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

Collective (2019 film) - Wikipedia

During the final quarter hour of this Romanian documentary, you might swear that citizens of that Eastern European state are under the same pressures and problems as the we have in our U.S. politics. An election is held. Opponents of a party rife with corruption complain that those in awe of that reactionary group want to bring the country back to a former time. We hear that only a small percentage of people age 18-24 are voting—actually five percent, and even we in America have a bigger turnout of youths. Ultimately, the problems of Romania are felt in states around the world, as politics and corruption appear to go hand in hand.

As in Steven Spielberg’s 2017 blockbuster film “The Post,” “Collective” takes us to journalists, this time in Bucharest, though Alexander Nanau’s film deliberately lacks the pizazz brought about by music in the soundtrack (there is none here). Strangely, tales of bribery and mismanagement are being uncovered by a sports magazine. Since this is a documentary, professional actors are not used in favor of giving the cameras’ eyes to the actual people involved.

The writer-director, whose recent doc “Toto and His Sisters” tells of a family awaiting their mother’s return from prison, opens with the movie’s most melodramatic moments, a fire five years ago in a Bucharest nightclub called Collectiv, resulting in the deaths of twenty-seven and injuries over one hundred. Many hospitalized patients who died might have survived had they not been infected by highly resistant bacteria, doing their deed in the absence of effective sterility. In the principal role, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Catalin Tolontan, puts the potential story front and center, his staff taking pictures, following nurses and doctors on their rounds, ultimately to find that contrary to the view of the health minister, whose party will soon be up for re-election, the hospitals are unprepared. The disinfectant, Hexa Pharma, was watered down to just ten percent of its proper strength. The guilty
party is likely not the hospital but the pharmaceutical company, its CEO’s death in a car accident deemed a suicide.

The health minister had to go as well, Vlad Voiculescu taking his place. The genius of the film is that while I thought the meetings he held with his staff are reimagined but are actually photographed by the writer-director who is also behind the lenses. The crew is apparently given full access, a kind of transparency we wish were present within our own federal government.

Bribery is not the only corruption taken to task, as journalists under Tolontan discover that the entire health institution is rotten, bonding hospital administrators to the entire medical establishment presumably dipping their hands in the taxpayers’ money for their own use. The film was shot over fourteen months, with editing taking the better part of year. Aside from the film’s audience good luck in not having to listen to Hollywood-style music in the soundtrack, Nanau uses Tedy Ursuleanu’s testimony and her portraits to punctuate the damage done by the nightclub fire. She has a robotic hand that works just fine but her body is largely covered by burns. Hospitals are so ill equipped throughout the country that tourists should take note: if you get sick or have an accident in Romania, get your butt to Vienna’s treatment centers ASAP.

109 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+


ACASA, MY HOME – movie review


Zeitgeist Films/ Kino Lorber
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Radu Ciorniciuc
Writer: Lina Vdovî, Radu Ciorniciuc
Cast: Gica Enache, Niculina Nedelcu, and their nine children
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/31/20
Opens: November 11-19, 2020 at Doc NYC. January 15, 2021 in select theaters

Acasa, My Home Poster

You can take people out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of people. This appears the point of “Acasa, My Home,” as described by co-writer and director Radu Ciorniciuc, whose “I Stay Home” became the first movie about Italy’s reaction to the Covid. Not that Gica Enache and Niculina Nedelcu are bringing up their nine kids in a Romanian Walden. The doc challenges viewers to question whether living in primitive conditions just a hop, skip and jump from busy Bucharest can be the preferred abode for people who are by any standards without the accoutrements of civilization. As Mercia Topoleanu and the director’s lenses take the long view—big buildings within walking distance of a wilderness including a stunning birds’ eye view—you might think the film is a sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit,” about people living seemingly in the 18th century while hidden and protected from modern technology.

Filming over four years, Ciorniuc, a journalist, watches the nine kids ranging in age from eighteen near the conclusion of the story to a couple of infants, utilizing their quarters, swimming and fishing in Lake Vacaresti. The oldest Enache child sells the fish in Bucharest, then retreats to the wilderness to enjoy the fry of the evening. They are wholly unschooled and none the worse, at least while they have what they think the need, though one wonders how they get alone without Charmin. But they have one another, which is fine until city life threatens.

A group of social engineers approach. The eleven folks are told that a nature park is planned on their land—not exactly theirs since they’re squatters—and they will be moved out. The politicians planning the largest such park in Europe lie to Gica, promising to make him a park ranger. How do we know they’re lying? They look like the politicians that they are. They even host Britain’s Prince Charles in a cameo, shoveling some dirt to begin the work.

Surprisingly for a poor country, the social workers have a place in Bucharest for them to stay, and it’s not bad at all, though they’re told that that the government cannot afford electricity, promising to re-house them as soon as the budget permits. By the time the eldest boy in the family is eighteen, he is asserting his independence, challenging dad for bringing them up poorly without schooling. Yet the father doesn’t like his new life, howling that he still does not like “wicked civilization” where he was once a chemistry lab assistant, and is determined to go back to a state of nature.

Among the big shots in addition to Prince Charles, the Prime Minister visits, makes the usual speech boasting his project, while Gica insists that he is on their level: “I have nine children; I’m not a nobody.” The rich become prime ministers, the poor have babies. Nobody’s starving. The kids catch birds with their bare hands, though one lucky duck is released. A pig is squealing, running hopelessly away from the gang of hungry people chasing it for the last time. Ultimately, it’s paradise lost, though one son, Vali, gets a job working construction on the new park.

This is a heartfelt documentary which obviously has had the cooperation of the eleven-member family through the four years of its making, a film that tackles themes of nature vs. civilization, child-rearing without Dr. Spock vs. ruling by the book, social engineering vs. letting it all be. The language is Romanian with adequate English subtitles.

86 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B