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  • Reviewed from the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

A significant amount of time is spent, in Radu Muntean’s shaggy dog story Întregalde, attempting to dig a car out of a muddy bog. Sticks, a rope, a lot of revving and pushing; this takes up a not inconsiderable amount of screentime. And yet, because of Muntean’s intelligence, his command of character and directing of actors, because of a magic of some ilk that has by this point settled on the film, it is riveting.

The story begins in a flurry of bustle and light, as a crew of Bucharest charity workers organise groceries into bags in a common room, joshing among themselves. The camera moves gracefully amidst all this activity, following them as they pair off into cars to take these provisions to the aged and needy in surrounding villages. Three of them, Dan (Alex Bogdan), Ilinca (Ilona Brezoianu) and Maria (Maria Popiștasu), team up in a 4x4 and eventually pick up a senile old man en route by the name of Kente Aron (Luca Sabin). The man asks them to take a detour by the saw mill and they turn off onto a dirt path through the woods, at which point the aforementioned disaster strikes.

What that summary doesn’t convey is Muntean’s exquisitely layered writing, which manages to establish character dynamics succinctly and derive as much tension and hilarity from these events as possible. His filmmaking, too, makes judicious use of its setting, creating a daunting, ever darkening forest, where the car is the only remaining trace of modernity for these characters far from the city. This dialectical setup is tight, neatly outlining a gap between young and old, new and modern, privileged and dispossesed.

Overlaying this, the young workers have a pleasingly unpolished dynamic between each other and with the aged Kente, who infuriates them all. Seeing Maria feed him crisps in the car’s back seat and almost in the same gesture gently hand him a Xanax to stop his rambling is a great pleasure. Dan’s furious, appallingly rude treatment of the old man is another cruel treat. The film has a fairly surprising liveliness, a coaxing wit visible in the black humour of the increasingly desperate predicament and the unsparing barbs of the main characters.

The action progresses in a series of finely sketched episodes, and what we learn of the old man, which is fed to us almost incidentally, is heartrending, conjuring up imagined visions of what his life must have been. In an achingly beautiful scene towards the end, Kente has his body washed by a neighbour, standing up in a basin, water sluicing his frail body. Here is real charity, and here is a real look at him as he is, such as the younger people never gave him.

In this admirably conceived drama, the bare bones of a narrative strive to afford the viewer a quite startling vision of our shared humanity, of a modernising country whose past still clings on, and of wheels still spinning, churning, flinging up flecks of loam and mud.

Further reading

Alice T. first look: a flawed tale of teenage pregnancy

Radu Muntean's latest drama follows a rebellious daughter and her distraught mother through a crisis, but fails to convince us to believe in their delicate dynamic, writes James Lattimer.

By James Lattimer

Alice T. first look: a flawed tale of teenage pregnancy

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