Dir: Doru Nitescu. Romania. 2013. 88mins
The story of parents who fight for the life of their ailing child is the kind of subject that seems to come up every other day on television. Those who might fear that Doru Nitescu indulges in yet another tearjerker of the familiar kind can rest assured, his treatment is a surprisingly restrained and neatly directed affair. Though it does take place mostly inside a hospital, it avoids the usual ER or House clichés, but suffers from a superficial script that seems uninterested in the characters beyond their function inside the plot, leaving the audience in the position of observers rather than participants and most likely condemning Carmen to a strict television future.
Rodica Lazar carries most of the film on her shoulders, conveying in a minimalistic performance some of the pain, the exhaustion and the fear of a mother who refuses to consider parting with her child.
Despite the title - that would imply the presence of a sexy gypsy girl in the lead, courtesy of Merime and Bizet - in Nitescu’s film, Carmen (Iulia Lupascu) is a little girl suffering from a brain tumour, and in urgent need of treatment. The film premiered at the Sarajevo Film Festival.
Living with her parents, Mariana (Rodica Lazar) and Puiu (Mimi Branescu), in a village up in the mountains, she is taken by her mother for a check-up at the same hospital where she had been operated some months earlier. Sitaru (Adrian Titieni), the doctor treating her, finds her condition aggravated and believes an additional surgical intervention might help.
His superior, the haughty, assertive Dr. Janos (Maia Morgenstern, a leading star of the Romanian stage), is dead set against it, as she considers it pointless to torture the child when there is nothing more to be done for her. Mariana, who has to make up her mind whom to believe, finally goes for the one chance in a million offered by a second operation, which for her is better than doing nothing.
All this sounds painfully familiar and the only way to breathe a new life into it is to apply a fresh twist to the old tale. Nitescu, however, prefers to keep it all on an almost emblematic level and never explores the options open to him.
Mariana and Puiu are obviously an urban couple, judging by the way they speak and conduct themselves, but they seem to be the darlings of the remote village where they have chosen to live for unspecified reasons. Their marriage is perfectly harmonious, despite Puiu’s father’s unexplained opposition to his daughter-in-law, while the medical aspects of Carmen’s condition is only sketchily drawn and the conflict of opinions between the two surgeons might be personal or professional, though both seem to be sincere in their own way.
It is true that none of these details directly affects Carmen’s fate one way or another, she is doomed in any case, but it might have fleshed up the skeletal script and lent it some more weight.
The cast does their best they can with the material they are handed, with Rodica Lazar, who carries most of the film on her shoulders, conveying in a minimalistic performance some of the pain, the exhaustion and the fear of a mother who refuses to consider parting with her child. Solid technical credits are great help, but ultimately if Nitescu’s film is to be commended, it is rather for avoiding the predictable effusions of sentimental outbursts usually accompanying this type of films rather than for adding a new dimension to the old, hackneyed genre.
Production company/contact: FILMEX Romania, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Titi Popescu
Screenplay: Tudor Voica, Doru Nitescu
Cinematography: Silviu Stavila
Editor: Dana Bunescu
Production designer: Bob Nicolescu
Music: Cristian Lolea
Main cast: Rodica Lazar, Iulia Lupascu, Adrian Titieni, Maia Morgenstern, Mimi Branescu