A homophobic attack rips apart a family and a community in Emanuel Parvu’s Danube Delta-set Competition entry

Three Kilometers To The End Of The World

Source: Cannes Film Festival

‘Three Kilometers To The End Of The World’

Dir: Emanuel Parvu. Romania. 2024. 104 mins.

Fortune has smiled upon 17-year-old Adi (Ciprian Chiujdea). He’s tall, with chiselled good looks and a romantic mop of dark curls. He excels academically and his future looks bright. The summer, spent with his parents in their sleepy backwater village in the picturesque Danube Delta, promises to be idyllic. Then one night he is savagely beaten, and everything changes. His injuries are just the beginning; the real pain is inflicted by his parents and their destructive love. The accomplished third film from Emanuel Parvu, Three Kilometers To The End Of The World is a disaster unfolding in slow motion. Superbly acted and deliberately paced, the film is a compulsive account of the shattering of a family, and of a life changed forever.

A disaster unfolding in slow motion

The Competition slot for Three Kilometers To The End Of The World marks the Cannes debut for Parvu, also an actor who has worked with Romanian New Wave stalwarts such as Cristian Mungiu, Adrian Sitaru and Călin Peter Netzer. That New Wave DNA is much in evidence in the film’s incremental build of tension and its labyrinthine tangle of favours, threats and corruption. Thematically, the film has common ground with Mungui’s Graduation (in which Parvu has a supporting acting role): both films unfold from the inciting incident of an assault on a child; both deal with parents struggling – and failing – to do the right thing. But Three Kilometers’ queer subject matter – it’s revealed early on that the attack is a gay bashing – adds another layer to a picture that should find a receptive audience at further festivals and beyond. Memento Distribution will release in France.

The Danube Delta region is a striking setting. Shot in airy widescreen, it is a place of clear skies and wide open horizons full of potential and possibility. It is also a neat contrast to what we learn about Adi’s community. The village is full of closed minds and locked doors, of shame and secrets. It’s no surprise that Adi dreams of moving to Bucharest. In an introductory scene, we see Adi talking to a stranger – a tourist to the area. He has already half made up his mind to visit the other boy in the city. It’s clear that they are flirting even before the boy daringly takes Adi’s finger into his mouth, on the pretext of sucking out a splinter.

Parvu, whose 2017 debut Meda Or The Not So Bright Side Of Things premiered in Sarajevo and 2021 follow up Mikado in San Sebastian, is confident enough as a storyteller not to feel the need to show everything. Not only do we not see the assault itself, only its aftermath when Adi stumbles home, but Parvu also lets Adi drift out of the frame during the charged nighttime conversation with the tourist. It’s a smart device – the film is Adi’s story, of course. But it’s also that of his parents (played by Bogdan Dumitrache and Laura Vasiliu), who struggle to see their actual son behind the distorting lens of who and what they believe he should be.

Adi’s hot-headed father wants justice and browbeats the local police chief (Valeriu Andriuta) into pursuing it. But the chief has his own loyalties and self-interest, particularly when it becomes clear that the guilty parties have powerful connections. The revelation about Adi’s sexuality comes as a bolt from the blue for his parents: his mother weeps harder at this news than she did over the beating. It’s at her insistence that the local priest visits, he brandishes incense and attempts to pray Adi, who has been bound and gagged by his parents, free of his homosexuality.

The violence of their good intentions is horrifying and destructive. But it’s symptomatic of a wider ignorance in the community – the beating, suggests one man, was justified because of Adi’s sexuality. The priest muses about whether gayness is something that might have been transmitted along with the Covid vaccine. The priority, they all agree, is to keep it quiet, rather than risk a further influx of homosexuals, ruining the peace of the community with their tattoos, piercings and al fresco sexual exploits. It could almost be a tragicomedy at times – but for Adi, the end of the world as he knew it is no laughing matter.

Production company: Famart Association

International sales: Goodfellas smichel@goodfellas.film

Producer: Miruna Berescu

Screenplay: Emanuel Parvu, Miruna Berescu

Cinematography: Silviu Stavila

Production design: Bogdan Ionescu

Editing: Mircea Olteanu

Main cast: Bogdan Dumitrache, Ciprian Chiujdea, Laura Vasiliu, Valeriu Andriuta, Ingrid Micu-Berescu, Adrian Titieni, Richard Bovnoczki, Vlad Brumaru, Alina Berzunteanu