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Life of the Party

MOVIE REVIEW
Tales From the Golden Age (2009)

Tales-from-the-golden-age-amintiri-din-epoca-de-aur-ion-sapdaru-virginia-mirea
IFC Films

“Tales of the Golden Age” consists of six Ceauşescu-era anecdotes told by writer-director Cristian Mungiu of the Palme d’or-winning “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” along with co-directors Ioana Uricaru, Hanno Höfer, Răzvan Mărculescu and Constantin Popescu. It begins with droll vignettes of party-mandated pageantry and progressively shifts its focus toward rebellious personal transgressions. An omnibus film like this is almost always a mixed bag, and this one is unfortunately no exception. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t come close to a historical document or a communist parable like Hungary’s “Taxidermia.”

The futile bureaucracy involved in keeping up appearances for the sake of communist propaganda dependably makes for hilarity. “The Legend of the Official Visit,” a “Big Night”-esque account chronicling the small village of Vizuresti going for broke to welcome officials from party headquarters, gets the film off to a strong start. But by the third installment, “The Legend of the Zealous Activist,” about an idealist hell-bent on educating illiterates in a remote village, the schtick is already tired and even the filmmakers have apparently lost interest.

The closing segments are firmly rooted in familiar territory for screenwriter Mr. Mungiu, but even those fail to replicate the shattering impact of “4 Months.” The main problem is that none of the instances of civil disobedience covered in “Tales” are anywhere near as high-stakes or as harrowing as the ordeal faced by the abortion-seeking protagonist in “4 Months.” “The Legend of the Air Sellers,” about two small-time scam artists who have “Bonnie and Clyde” on repeat in their VCR, at least achieves the intended visceral effect. But the anthology ends anticlimactically with “The Legend of the Chicken Driver,” a half-baked story about an unhappily married man led astray by his romantic delusion. The universal midlife crisis just strikes as a woefully inadequate way to conclude a compelling chapter in Romanian history.

TALES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE

Opens on Aug. 26 in Manhattan.

Directed by Ioana Uricaru, Hanno Höfer, Razvan Marculescu, Constantin Popescu and Cristian Mungiu; written by Mr. Mungiu; directors of photography, Oleg Mutu, Alex Sterian and Liviu Marghidan; edited by Dana Bunescu, Theodora Penciu and Ms. Uricaru; music by Mr. Höfer and Laco Jimi; production design by Cezara Armasu, Mihaela Poenaru, Dana Istrate and Simona Paduretu; costumes by Ms. Istrate, Brandusa Ioan, Luminita Mihai and Ana Ioneci; produced by Mr. Mutu and Mr. Mungiu; released by Sundance Selects. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 33 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Alexandru Potocean (Secretary), Teo Corban (Mayor), Emanuel Pirvu (Party Inspector), Avram Birau (Photographer), Paul Dunca (Photographer’s Assistant), Viorel Comanici (Party Secretary), Ion Sapdaru (Policeman Alexa), Virginia Mirea (Policeman’s Wife), Gabriel Spahiu (Policeman’s Best Neighbor), Diana Cavallioti (Crina), Radu Iacoban (Bughi), Vlad Ivanov (Grigore), Tania Popa (Camelia), Liliana Mocanu (Marusia), Calin Chirila (Party Activist) and Romeo Tudor (Shepherd).

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