LLF Review: Califronia Dreamin’

LFF: California Dreamin

“A secret NATO train filled with US Marines is halted by a bolshy local station master; rambunctious Balkan farce moves inexorably to tragedy as the soldiers and townspeople try to fraternise.”

Sitting down to watch what I thought was going to be a dark satire on the conflict in Kosovo, and American military interference in foreign wars wasn’t an easy sell first thing in the morning. Saying that, if there’s one thing the London Film Festival has taught me it’s; don’t judge a film until you’ve actually watched it. ‘California Dreamin’ turned out to be an incredibly sweet ‘farce’ (for the want of a better word) that never overtly tried to hard to be oddball or charming yet pulled off both with skill.

The story essentially revolves around a couple of central characters, Doiaru the Romanian station master and black marketeer, who seems to live by the adage ‘If I can be an asshole, I will be an asshole’, Captain Jones (played by Armand Assante… last seen in multiple direct-to-video movies from my youth) a military intelligence officer in charge of seeing their package (a large container.. of unknown contents) reaches it’s destination, and The Mayor who’s attempting to welcome the soldiers to his town in order to gain investment in the region and generally manage the whole situation.

‘quirk’ is a difficult thing to put your finger on in a film, but is easy to overcook. There’s films I’ve seen in the past that portray Eastern Europe as this weird place, full of colorful characters and weird cultural differences; ‘Everything is Illuminated’ is one that springs to mind, that was so heavy handed and trite I could barely stand it. When a film sets out to be consciously ‘quirky’ I personally can smell it coming a mile away, and it grinds on me. ‘California Dreamin’ did everything right in that respect, tell a story, set-up your characters and play it out as best you can… and let ‘quirk’ come naturally to the situations.

There’s a scene in the film where the town throws a party for the soldiers, and the townspeople have obviously gathered all their American memorabilia in one place including some incredibly odd paintings of cultural icons like George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the mayor wears a hap-hazard ’stars and stripes’ tie, and an Elvis impersonator shows up to sing. It’s with elements like this that the film really triumphs, it doesn’t try to rub the laughs in your face, but rather just adds elements into the mix and trusts that the audience will see the humor in it.

I can’t remember the last thing I saw Armand Assante in, but he’s good in the role he was born to play; Marine Captain, and the Romanian actors who i’ve never seen or heard of before are all really excellent. The sad footnote to the film is that the director Cristian Nemescu and his editor were both killed in a car crash before the film was properly finished (there was small editing tweaks to be done). It’s presented as they left it and it works as a beautiful if not slightly tragic epitaph to them.

I enjoyed ‘California Dreamin’ immensely, it dolled out drama, comedy and romance in the right amounts in what felt like an un-calculated fashion. It made me smile, chuckle and perhaps most importantly the story held my attention for it’s relatively lengthy running time (a sure sign of quality because I fidget like a child that needs to wee if i’m bored). The only negative thing I could say is the the ending is slightly heavy handed, and it would have been nice to see what further edits Nemescu would have made if he’d had the chance. Saying that though, as a work to leave behind, even as it stands in its current form, ‘California Dreamin’ is a film he could have been proud of.

Catch ‘California Dreamin” if you can, check the details at the London Film Festival site here

2 Responses

  1. yep, the movie was great and if you liked it you really should see “Marilena de la P7″ a short by Nemescu. ;)

  2. [...] can check out my full review of this film here and another review written by my friend Mike [...]