The Way I Spent The End Of The World (Romania/France, director Catalin Mitulescu): This was an earnest but uneven film about life in Romania during the final months of Ceausescu’s rule in 1989. Teenaged Eva and her young brother Lalalilu live with their parents and suffer the hardships of living under a hated dictator. Since their neighbour is a cop, they have to be careful what they say, and Eva’s parents encourage her budding romance with the policeman’s son Alex because of what the family connection could do for them. Instead, her rebellious attitude gets her expelled from her school and sent to a technical school for troubled students. There she connects with another neighbour, Andrei, whose family have already been punished for protesting against the regime. Together they make plans to escape Romania by swimming across the Danube, but when the crucial moment comes, Eva turns back.
Meanwhile, Lilu is plotting with his friends how to kill the dictator. Young Timotei Duma is very reminiscent of Salvatore Cascio, who played young Salvatore (Toto) in Cinema Paradiso. Which means he was extremely cute, and some of his scenes were the best in the film. There are two whimsical scenes where we seem to enter his childlike world: one is set in a submarine taxi where all the villagers can be taken to whatever city in Europe they wish to visit, and the other visualizes the boy blowing a huge chewing gum bubble that becomes so large that it floats away. Clearly, the theme of escape is on everyone’s mind.
I wish there had been more scenes like that. Instead, most of the film consists of Eva’s various meetings with Alex or Andrei and very little dialogue. For a main character, she was just a little too enigmatic. I definitely felt the film could have used a bit more dialogue and a bit more editing to speed the pace a bit. As well, the ending could have used a bit more explication. There are some pictures of Ceaucescu on live television and what appears to be live coverage of him fleeing but there is no explanation. For Romanians this might be self-evident but for the rest of the world, we could use a little bit of help.
The ending itself is quite lovely, with the increasing tension suddenly released with Ceaucescu’s fall. And there were some moments of dark humour, as when the students are required to sing patriotic songs about how wonderful their lives are in Romania when it’s plain that everyone is living in misery. But there is a bit of unexplained business at the end surrounding the policeman and his son Alex that bothered me. As well, there were a few strange cinematographical choices throughout the film that proved distracting. Scenes would be clumsily blocked by objects as if the director didn’t quite know where to place his camera. It’s not a huge surprise to discover that this is Catalin Mitulescu’s first feature film.