Closer To The Moon
* * * *
by Hector Mackenzie
IF you caught Nae Caranfil’s Closer To The Moon at the Inverness Film Festival, chances are you left the theatre with the feeling that you’ve never seen anything quite like it.
That feeling was perhaps reflected in the gentle round of applause which echoed in the darkness as the closing credits rolled. It’s a quirky charmer whose main strengths lie in sharp, quick-fire dialogue and a handful of outstanding character actor performances.
That it was a labour of love for writer/director Caranfil is clear. The English-language dialogue feels stilted only for moments before the viewer is drawn into the remarkable yarn, which is based on a true story.
What happens? Bucharest 1959. A spectacular daylight robbery bank heist is carried out in front of an admiring audience tricked into believing they’re on a film set. In post-war communist Romania it is a shocking slap in the face to the iron-fisted authorities.
Four men and a woman are arrested, tried, convicted and while waiting for their execution are bizarrely forced to star in a propaganda film about the crime.
We quickly learn that all five were heroes of the resistance during the Second World War and, in their time, respected members of Romanian society. Life isn’t panning out the way they’d hoped and, at a birthday party discussion during which it emerges all remain true to their ideals, an outrageous plan with a virtually non-existent probability of success is hatched.
The ever-watchable Mark Strong plays Max Rosenthal, a jaded Romanian police officer who teams up with a small crew of old friends from the World War II Jewish Resistance to pull off the heist.
Wonderfully unpredictable in his actions (watch what happens in response to his uptight wife smashing the screen of their TV set at a dinner party) and unwaveringly resolute in the face of extreme danger, Strong makes a brilliant ringleader. It’s a performance matched and more by female lead Vera Farmiga as Alice, a woman you just wouldn’t choose to mess with.
Running to 112 minutes, it’s packed with witty one-liners and is often very, very funny. It might have benefited from a little editing down but that’s a minor quibble for what is a very watchable oddball comedy drama.
Best quote? “Lord, in thy great bounty, screw the Bolsheviks, give them every disease in the world, ruin them, burn their houses, and send them back to Moscow, Amen.”
Who for? Art cinema buffs, historians and anyone who is a sucker for those “based on a true story” taglines.
Quick review? An idealistic group of WW2 resistance movement chums reform for one last feat of daring that’ll put everything that went before in the shade.
Closer To The Moon will be back at Eden Court Cinema in January or February for a couple of days. Check www.eden-court.co.uk for finalised dates.