Closer To The Moon (Nae Caranfil, 2014)

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I don’t see a lot of Romanian or made-in-Romania movies, something that I have to change because my people made some very good films, funny comedies, historical epics, musicals for children, local fairytale adaptations and many Communist dramas, a genre we specialize in. We also have a series of films about some high school pupils in Communist Romania which we can safely call a franchise.
Closer to the Moon stands out as a different kind than what we usually produce in Romania. More different because of the international cast and ambitious production, it looks like it had more money than the usual films done here. Directed by acclaimed Romanian director Nae Caranfil, this comedy drama based on real events stars Vera Farmiga, Mark Strong and Harry Lloyd. It tells the story of four men and a woman who robbed a bank while pretending to shoot a gangster film and the consequences of their actions. After they were caught, they were sentenced to be executed by a firing squad, but before that, they were put to reenact their story into a film as a cautionary tale for the public’s view, with the government funding the operation.

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The story follows young Virgil, played by Harry Lloyd, a country boy coming to the big city who gets to work as a cameraman on the reenactment. He makes a connection with Alice, played by Vera Farmiga, the woman who is part of the group of robbers. Her lover is Max Rosenthal, a military officer played by Mark Strong whose marriage is falling apart. The mystery of the story is the reason why these people decided to rob the bank. A reason is explained but it is so idealistically insane that I believe it’s just the director and screenwriter’s opinion. One theory was that they wanted to use the money to get Jews back to Israel.
These people were intelligent, well read, with high positions in society, with no reason to throw their life away like that. I felt like they were presented more as irresponsible bohemians who have no value of life.

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I was very impressed with the ambition of the production, comprised of mostly English actors and the story, of which I haven’t heard of, sounds interesting and suitable enough to be made into a good film.
There are two things that ruined the film for me but I understand their existence. First of all, despite having a bigger budget than most Romanian productions, I still felt the financial constraint they were under. Most of the reenactments were shot on three locations, one being used more than the others, some contemporary elements like posters and hmm garbage were visible in the shots. The other issue was the language. English was used through the entire film, despite the countless Romanian words written on doors and walls.
I understand its use of the language but it was ridiculous hearing all the names and seeing Romanian written on magazines and banners and hearing all the actors speaking English. Wish they could have worked it out.

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Being a film about making films, its main themes are passion for cinema and the pleasure of pretend. Other themes are love, freedom from a controlling system and from a controlled and boring life, motherhood and justice.
I would like to say a few things about the title, Closer to the Moon, Besides the idealism of the characters and a song I vaguely remember that was probably about the moon or magic or both, I don’t find the title very appropriate for the story.
The tone of the film is very comedic for the rather sad story. It has some funny moments, but my opinion is that it’s too oriented-to-laughs for its own good. The characters don’t have a sad view of life after getting caught, it’s the opposite. When they receive their sentences they clap their hands and shout at each other like there’s nothing left to lose, but there is a lot to lose. I wanted more back story of the characters, more explanations for their actions and reactions. Maybe I wanted more drama and a better interaction between the characters, because I don’t believe these people’s actions.

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The actors did their best to portray these poorly written people. Vera Farmiga had the best performance probably because she had more to work with than the others. However as I said before, the group of robbers are mainly thoughtless idealists. They have no remorse and no regret whatsoever.
The character of Virgil, the protagonist who guides us through the story, is your main everyday young guy with no experience who gets emotionally involved in the robbers’ story, a character we see quite often.
Supporting characters like the drunken director, the controlling high power, the funny old people who are the owners of the place where Virgil lives and the crazy wife are all here.

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I did appreciate however the depiction of those times, the costumes and the sets were close to reality. However, the cinematography wasn’t something to be in awe of.
Also there is a nice touch at the end, during the credits when we see the real reenactments and the real people depicted.
Closer to the Moon doesn’t stand out as a great cinematic adaptation, but it’s something to appreciate, it’s a step forward in the evolution of Romanian cinema and a departure from the usually grey dramas that keep getting made. I honestly don’t have any Academy Award ambitions about this one. We have a much more promising project about a mathematician in the Communist era, a B&W film which got a lot of recognition in international film festivals, a film I intend to review once it gets released. However, this one will probably get the push to be the Romanian representative at the Academy Awards in 2015 given the actors involved and the Academy-friendly story.
I am glad I saw it, it was nice seeing places I saw with my own eyes on the big screen and hopefully it will get recognition outside the mother country. I think people who aren’t Romanians or those who don’t know much about it and life during the Communist era will enjoy the film more than I did.

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