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Romania: Up the Junction – Romanian Style

22nd September 2016

This brilliantly crafted film is based upon a true story of an incident that occurred in Romania during the war in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. A train carrying NATO military equipment to Kosovo escorted by US Marines was held up for several days in Capalnita, a village railway station close to the Romanian border, by a station master who insisted that they needed certain paperwork before they could continue on their journey.

This film works on many levels – it is a playful comedy telling the story of a corrupt station master (Doiaru) who decides to hold up the US military on the pretext that they do not have the correct documentation. The Mayor of the village decides that the best thing to do while this situation is being resolved is that whole village should welcome their unexpected American visitors with a grand party to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the village. This has both comical and disasterous results; starting with romantic liaisons between the American marines and the local women, and ending in a western-style brawl with the local men, while an Elvis impersonator performs on stage. At the same time, the film explores the culture clash between local Romanian politics and the geopolitics of the US ‘peace keeping’ force. While all this is going on, a romantic affair blossoms between the station master’s daughter (Monica) and the US Military second in command (David), despite their language differences. The story is given an added twist by a series of monochrome flashbacks from the end of WW2 when the station master was a young boy and the village is ‘liberated’ from the Nazis by the Russians, instead of the Americans. Through these scenes we come to possibly understand why Doiaru is intentionally holding up this US convoy. The Americans have finally arrived in Capalnita…

The acting is superb, especially the character interplay between the lugubrious station master Doiaru (played by Razvan Vasilescu) and the bellicose US military officer in command Captain Doug Jones (played by Armand Assante). Abundant use of hand held cameras and grainy close ups heightens the sense of drama.

The film comes to an ironic ending when the villagers and the major are encouraged in a fervent evangelical speech by the US Captain to rise up and riot against the despotic Doiaru, and results in a pitched battle where Doiaru is violently murdered. This occurs at the same time that the US finally receive permission to leave, blissfully unaware of the mayhem that they have left behind in their wake. A note at the end says that the equipment that was being transported was radar, which was installed two hours after the ceasefire with Yugoslavia was signed…

The film was directed by Cristian Nemescu, a young 27 year old who tragically died in a car accident before the film was edited. Despite this, the studio decided to release the film in its entirety, leading to a long runtime of 155 minutes. I think it would have been difficult to cut anything out of this film !

Big thanks should also go to Felix and Oana who kindly provided some delicious Romanian food before the film, especially the Cabbage Rolls which get a mention in the film! Also Felix provided a list of other Romanian films, which is a really great springboard for exploring the world of Romanian cinema…


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