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Feature


It’s the 22nd of December. Sixteen years have passed since the Romanian revolution, and Christmas is right around the corner. Jderescu, the owner of a local television post, is not interested in the upcoming holidays. Instead he decides to devote the evening’s show to memories of the revolution, and he invites two friends aboard to answer questions about their involvement. Piscoci, a retired elder preparing for another Christmas alone, and Manescu, a drunken history teacher desperately trying to square his debts, try to answer the question of a generation—“Was there ever an actual revolution in their town?"

12:08 East of Bucharest
Are you sick of the same old Christmas movies? Have you exhausted all the usual classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street? Do you even find yourself bored with the slightly skewed alternatives like Scrooged, Gremlins and Die Hard. How about giving a small time Romanian feature that’s not really about Christmas at all, would that maybe float your Yule tide boat this year?

12:08 East of Bucharest (a title referring to the time of dictator Nicolae Ceauseacu’s escape from the country) grinds slowly for its first half while pumping away at the humdrum lives of our three main protagonists. The camera never moves, the actions are mundane, and the plot is ill-defined. It’s strange that things pick up as much as they do when our characters finally arrive for their telecast, considering they sit stationary for the next forty minutes or so (it’s also amusing that it is at this point that the camera begins to move to better emulate the inexperienced cameraman), but the interest increase is exponential. I’d argue that the downer first half is unnecessary, but without it we wouldn’t have quite the same understanding of these characters.

12:08 East of Bucharest
I am very, very unfamiliar with the Romanian revolution (even though I’ve somehow ended up with more than the usual share of Romanian acquaintances over the years), so I’m not sure about the validity of the film’s argument, but I find myself quite intrigued by the questioning of a well know revolution’s existence, it’s just so…existential. The theme would probably resonate with me on a much deeper and personal level had I been born a Romanian, but at the very least director Corneliu Porumboiu has made me take a trip to Google for a brief history lesson.

Of course, few films work only on such levels alone, so we’re fortunate that Porumboiu has infused his little tale with plenty of bone-dry wit and deadpan delivery, as well as a few clumps of basic physical humour. When callers begin tossing about damning accusations the awkward reactions are simply priceless. The teacher is caught in what very well may be a public lie about his heroism, the show’s host realizes his fluff piece episode has taken a turn he was not at all prepared for, and the kindly old man busies himself with origami and limp defences of his friend’s honour. Fans of typical British sit-coms like Fawlty Towers or The Office will likely be in hog heaven once the defecate hits the fan. The production and performances are almost frighteningly natural—just perfect for underwear bunching, squirm inducing laughs aplenty.

12:08 East of Bucharest

Video


The two halves of 12:08 East of Bucharest are quite obviously stylistically divided. The first half is made up mostly of lopped off, documentary-like camera work, using natural lighting. These scenes are dirty, grainy, and often quite dark overall, but this is a stylistic choice. The detail levels on the disc are about as high as the source material will allow, though edge enhancement is not unheard of, and bright reds (like the Santa Claus outfit) are rife with compression blocks. The latter half is filmed like a real amateur telecast, with rough angles and awkward zooms. This section is much brighter and more colourful, though still a bit on the grainy side. The overall transfer is marred by interlacing effects, especially during its first half.

Audio


There is quite a bit of low-key traditional Romanian (and a little Latin) music throughout the film, and a few bits of incidental sound effects, but overall 12:08 East of Bucharest is strictly about the dialogue. The DTS and Dolby Digital tracks, both in the original Romanian, are sparse, but clean, and the dialogue as clear as it can be considering some of the cinema verite moments aren’t as sharply recorded as the telecast portion. There isn’t too much to say about either track, other than they sound like real life, just like they’re supposed to.

12:08 East of Bucharest

Extras


Director Corneliu Porumboiu’s commentary track is in English, and Porumboiu’s English is pretty good. The track is a little on the apprehensive side, but tells the story of a young filmmaker’s entry-level success, and effectively gets across the intentions of the film. As an American ignoramus I could’ve done with a little more political history, but I guess that’s what Wikipedia is for. A trailer and trailers for other Tartan releases finish the disc off.

Overall


Surely not for everyone, 12:08 East of Bucharest is still a sardonic mini-masterpiece, and something for jaded foreign film fans to seek out. Though only eighty-nine minutes in length, the deliberate pacing may turn some folks off, as will the lack of flashback action, but those willing to test their patience will find themselves in stitches by film’s end. The disc is about as low key as the feature, but does feature an interesting commentary track.


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