Romania France Hungary (100 mi) 2010 ‘Scope d: Marian Crişan
This is the kind of film that governments or international selection committees like to pick because it represents a globalist community ideal, one where all men are brothers under the sun, but of course, in the real world this ideal has little practicality. Reminiscent of a Slovakian film The Border (Hranica) (2009), both films are set near national borders, the Ukraine and Slovakia, and here Romania and Hungary, where historically people have routinely crossed borders with little difficulty as they live nearby, so shopping across the border or visiting family was never frowned upon. Well this is no longer the case in a post 9/11 world where everyone is under suspicion of harboring terrorist intentions. Despite all being members of the European Union, this apparently means squat when it comes to border patrols, where each individual nation implements their own unique style. Typically Eastern European nations formerly under Communist rule tend to use this as an opportunity to glorify the autocratic power of the guards themselves, some carrying automatic weapons (Slovakia), each tyrannically protecting their little fiefdoms with a series of near impossible bureaucratic rules and procedures that makes crossing the border an official act that requires an official governmental seal of approval, which in the case of Slovakians means they’d have to travel to the capital to petition for a visa request and back again to receive the decision if they wished to visit relatives across the border, a mere 5-minute walk from their homes, while Ukrainians, on the other hand, can easily obtain theirs. In this film, a penniless farmer Nelu (András Hatházi), a decent and good-natured guy living in a dilapidated farmhouse with his constantly nagging wife, crosses the border for a little peace and quiet and to go fishing in nearby Hungary, bringing back dinner, but when he returns to Romania, the harassing and overly efficient border guards inform him he needs a permit to go fishing and another permit to bring the fish back across the border, arrogantly informing him that he can cross the border into Romania but the fish stays in Hungary. The film is a variation on this Kafkaesque absurdity about cracking down on borders using outdated, totalitarian methods from the days of yore which were designed to prevent citizens from escaping the country—in other words people could get in, but they couldn’t get back out, stuck in a bureaucratic maze of totalitarian indifference.
While never rising to new artistic heights, the film is shot in a near documentary style, though decidedly less grim than previous Romanian films, using long takes in ‘Scope that accentuate the realism, small town humor, and monotonous rhythm of daily life. Nelu works as a security guard in a perpetually vacant grocery store where employees have little to do, where to pass the time he can be seen helping stock the shelves or assisting elderly customers. He’s in for a perplexing surprise when he meets a foreigner (Yilmaz Yalcin) one day at his fishing hole, a guy who can’t speak the language, so nothing he says is subtitled, but rather than give the border guards any satisfaction, he denies having seen or met anyone, which immediately earns this new stranger’s trust, where Nelu allows him to stay at his farmhouse in a storage shelter, which doesn’t win the approval of his wife. Soon the whole town is aware of this stranger who initially helps with needed repairs around the farm, but is soon seen with Nelu when he visits local bars and pool halls, where various friends weigh in on what to do with him, as he’s apparently trying to get to Germany to connect with his family, but he doesn’t have appropriate visa documents. Several somewhat amusing attempts to smuggle him across the border to Hungary fail, as he’s obviously reticent to leave the kind hospitality of Nelu, growing attached, like a loyal and obedient pet dog, always returning when they attempt to move him along his way. By the end, there’s an interesting helicopter sequence that bears some similarity to Béla Tarr’s WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (2000), one that suggests ordinary citizens are all subject to the zeal of an over-eager SWAT team looking to make a name for themselves, which they do by showing a blatant disregard for the rights of the nation’s own citizenry.
Some interesting observations here are a few of the bar sequences, where Nelu and his friends discuss the current composition of the Romanian national soccer team, which instead of Romanians, national heroes who they used to identify with by name, consists of Brazilians, Argentines, and various other South American countries, adding a strange twist to the national identity, which replicates the multi-ethnic racial composition of the 1998 French World Cup team, which many felt was not really French, but consisted of Algerian, Turkish, Ghana, Senegal, and West Indies players, where 9 of the 11 players on the field had black family origins outside of France. Another is the use of television, watched continuously by Nelu's overly affected wife, which stirs up antagonism and racial animosity, suggesting to the viewership that any unregistered foreigners are potential terrorists, urging citizens to turn them into authorities, threatening them with collaborative arrest if they don’t, creating an official underclass of potential threats to the nation, yet historically there have always been migrants, ethnic workers, and people with no real national identity comprising the Romanian population, most specifically the Gypsy population, which recognizes no national border and may number about 10 million in Romania alone. This film doesn’t address the issue of Gypsies, which have perennially caused bureaucracies fits, failing to comply with census records or the systematic recording of births, remaining a community of Gypsies rather than citizens of a given nation. Since most people have multiple countries of origin in their family genealogy records, it would be hard to restrict these families to a single nation, yet when it comes to the restrictive nature of border crossing guidelines, that’s exactly what they force families to do. Crişan’s film, which shows Nelu’s growing attempt to understand and sympathize with the stranger on a human level, which is seen in this new authoritarian light as contempt for his government, shows how the individual’s views are being suppressed, where basic instincts of common sense that have prevailed for centuries in living peacefully and showing a tolerance for neighbors, or even the idea of offering a helping hand, are now seen as against the new governmental laws that are instead designed to generate suspicion and pit one against the other, showing that modernist, post-Ceausescu views are actually contributing to greater hostilities rather than greater understandings.