It’s rather easy to become an expert on Romanian cinema: given its rarity, you only need to watch one film.
California Dreamin’ (Endless) is a pretty safe choice. It’s set, for the most part, in 1999 during the war in Kosovo: NATO have sent a group of US Marines to escort a radar system through Romania by train.
Of course, in accordance with the Laws of Film, there’s no way this is going to happen without a few trials and tribulations: the film finds its pivot at the refusal of a station master, Doiaru (Razvan Vasilescu), to allow the train to pass without the necessary papers. The various sub-plots involve a taciturn affair between U.S Sergeant McLaren (Jamie Elman) and Doiaru’s daughter, Monica (Maria Dinulescu), a strike at the local ball-bearing factory, and the Mayor’s (Ion Sapdaru) misled keenness to help the Americans.
The acting is merely solid. Yet writer/director Christian Nemescu manages to use explosive effects and fast scene changes in a manner which contrasts completely with Hollywood’s, giving depth to, rather than cheapening, the storyline.
Overall, California Dreamin’ artfully balances sluggish boredom with electric montage, and cool bureaucracy with sticky relationships. Humour derives, expectedly, from difficulties with translation, but Nemescu’s ironic use of Americanisms and clichés causes the viewer to laugh from quite a different perspective.
Turning Western cinema on its head is quite an ambitious project, yet here it is done fantastically: the world we’re used to viewing is reflected and distorted by the eyes of Eastern Europe, to create a refreshing and revealing image of America and the world’s perception of it.