Color, 2001, 90m.
Directed by Cristi Puiu
Starring Alexandru Papadopol, Dragos Bucur, Ioana Flora
Second Run (DVD) (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 2001, 90m.
Though it's best known for tackling cinematic discoveries from the Czech Republic and Poland, essential UK label Second Run has tackled a wide variety of other countries and come up with great discoveries. Making its English-language video debut anywhere is this worthwhile Romanian find, a Cannes entry that marked the feature debut for director Cristi Puiu and kicked off a Romanian New Wave for the new millennium.
Young Ovidiu (Papadopol) may dream small, but dream he does of someday running his own little commercial kiosk. An opportunity to make some quick cash arises when a middle-aged, low-grade mobster offers him the chance to transport some illicit medical supplies to Bucharest in exchange for $2,000. It's supposed to be a one-man job, but Ovidiu decides to bring along two pals, Vali (Bucur) and his girlfriend Betty (Flora), for an unusual ride through the countryside and into the city - with a possible unwanted van tagging along behind them.
These ingredients could have easily been turned into a flashy thriller, but Stuff and Dough subverts expectations by finding tension and unease in the mundane. Long takes avoid any showy camera work, instead emphasizing the everyday factors that people deal with and the environments sometimes overlooked including rest stops packed with commercial goods or a crime scene by the side of the road revealing a bloody aftermath that comments on our protagonists' precarious situation. All three of the leads do a solid job of carrying you along on the trip even if they don't get any traditional "big" actor scenes; you never really doubt their interactions or think that they'll ever end up truly happy. However, the film is far from depressing; it's filled with a muted by sly wit and a curiosity about human nature that prevents it from ever becoming cynical.
As mentioned above, this film has rarely been seen in English since its original festival run and makes for a solid entry in the impressive roster of Second Run titles. The director-approved HD transfer looks about as pristine as SD PAL video will allow without any notable flaws at all; it's a naturalistic film to be sure, but this release brings it to the screen in fine fashion. The stereo Romanian track features optional English subtitles. As for extras, you get the 24-minute "Cristi Puiu in conversation with Meheli Modi" (a casual but illuminating chat that will make you want to see the rest of his films, especially Aurora), and the 12-minute "Cigarettes and Coffee," a quirky little vignette about an unusual business exchange that takes place during an afternoon meal in a cafe. Film critic Carmen Gray also contributes a set of liner notes about encountering Puiu at the 2010 Transilvania International Film Festival and picked up recurring themes and concerns in his work.