NELU, a man in his forties, works as a security guard at a supermarket in Salonta, a small town on the Romanian-Hungarian border. This is the place where many illegal emigrants try to cross, by any means possible, to Hungary and then further to Western Europe. For NELU, days go by the same. Fishing at dawn, then work, and finally home with his wife-FLORICA. They live alone at an isolated farmhouse on the fields outside Salonta. Their problem these days is repairing the old roof of the farmhouse. One morning, NELU will fish something different out of the river: a Turkish man trying to cross the border. Not able to communicate verbally, the two men will somehow understand each other. NELU takes the stranger to the farmhouse, gives him some dry clothes, food and shelter. He doesnt really know how to help this stranger. The Turkish man gives NELU all the money he has on him so he will help him cross the border. Eventually, NELU takes the money and promises he will help him cross the border tomorrow, MORGEN (Imdb)
A slice of life in Romania and a warning not to take freedom for granted.
“Morgen,” directed and written by Romanian uber-film maker Marian Crisan, is Romania’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2011 Oscars. From the producer of the Romanian indie hit “The Death of Mr. Lazarescue,” the film screened at the gala opening night festival of the Romanian Film Festival in New York City.
Now in its 6th year, the festival has seen a remarkable maturation of its countries film industry. Both the actors and directors alike seem more relaxed and in sync with the film making process, as compared to with their performances screened in the first RFF in 2007.
András Hatházi stars as Nelu, a man celebrating what appears to be the prevailing lifestyle in Romania. He is taciturn to the point of being comatose. He has learned to deal with the inane activities of the incredibly stupid ruling bureaucracy with mute acceptance.
In fact, he has learned to deal with everything, including a roof with a hole large enough to pass a man, with mute acceptance. The one thing he can deal with is the suffering of his fellow human being.
This theme runs through many Romanian stories. The wise, thoughtful and kind country folk are contrasted with the corrupt and uncaring “educated” government functionaries. Although citizens around the world have been known to grouse about their leadership, Romanian films seem to take the crucifixion of leaders as a mandatory cinematic prerequisite.
Unfortunately, in too many cases this singular theme seems to carry too much of the load in telling a story. “Morgen” falls into that category.
After a brief introduction showing the local customs officials practically opening fire when NELU tries to take a carp across the border, the film meanders here and there for fifteen minutes before cutting to the chase. Illegally immigrating Turkish refugee Morgen stumbles onto Nelu while he is fishing in a local creek.
Although Morgen is on his way to Germany Nelu takes the illegal alien under his wing at the risk of severe sanctions at the hands of the local officers of the federal government. Against the wishes of his wife (Florica, played by Elvira Rimbu), Nelu takes Morgen into his house and then employs him in helping to replace the dilapidated roof.
At this point, the film becomes vaguely reminiscent of the Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” There is a crime being committed here, but it is impossible to point out how the perpetrator is benefitting. Everything about feeding and housing the feckless Morgen appears to be a lose-lose proposition.
Slowly, the law turns the heat up on Nelu. He must turn Morgen out, before the feds get deeply involved. Characteristically, the hotter the heat, the more stubborn is Nelu in his irrational defense of the right of the Turk to live in Romania.
Although this is a touching sentiment, it turns out to be lacking in bulk. Simply stated, there is not enough action, acting or plot to fill the one hundred minutes of this film. Nelu drives an ancient, puttering motorcycle with an ancient, shaky sidecar. We see this vehicle crossing back and forth across the screen until we are ready to scream for mercy. It becomes Chinese water torture.
In the end, Nelu is able to reconcile his love of his newfound friend with the factual realities of the situation. However, based on conversations with several of those attending this screening (the Walter Reade theatre at Lincoln Center was packed), there is no consistent opinion as to whether the ending was happy or sad.
Therefore, no spoilers here. You will have to see for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
The film is shot and produced according to the finest dogme principles, whether Romanian Marian Crisan planned it that way or not. The shots are exteriors and interiors, mostly the former, in real towns, houses and highways.
They always take advantage of natural lighting and sets. The costumes of the actors appear to be exactly what they would normally wear around the house. In fact, the costumes may well have been what they were wearing before they showed up on the set.
Although this is very Bohemian and bears an undeniable stamp of honesty and transparency, it does not make for an exciting movie. If this is the one-trick pony upon which the future of Romanian cinema is riding, it would be well advised to find another mount.