Saturday, September 12, 2015

DVDebut -- a don't-miss that almost everyone did: Nae Caranfil's CLOSER TO THE MOON

"First, we arrest the comrades who make trouble, and then we assign them a crime." Those words slip from the lips of a Romanian policeman circa 1960, working of course under the control of the USSR. But it could easily be coming from the mouth of any of the world's abusers-in-power -- current or past. In CLOSER TO THE MOON, a terrifically original and entertaining movie about a bizarre incident that happened in that tiny eastern European country and involved a group of Jewish friends, anti-Nazi freedom fighters during WWII who are now out of favor with the conniving Commies in charge of the state.

The movie is also about the magic of filmmaking, which should make it a must-see for film buffs. And as it stars two of the world's better and more under-rated/ under-seen actors (shown on poster above) -- Mark Strong and Vera Farmiga -- and was written and directed by a Romanian we ought to know better and see more of (Nae Caranfil, at right), this just adds to the don't-miss ammunition.

What really makes the movie special however, is the manner in which it tackles those same old bugaboos: anti-Semitism (this time via the Soviets and their satellites) and the abuse of power by Fascistic dictators under the guise of Socialism. It's a film that treats terrible problems we've seen done time and again with dead seriousness and often horror.

The difference is that here all this is handled with a kind of charm and finesse that still manages to treat the ideas and goings-on with intelligence and respect. Thanks to the concept of making this a film about a film (and about filmmaking and acting, too), Caranfil, as writer and director, is able to tread that fine and often slippery line between serious subject and entertaining style with surprising dexterity.

I am not comparing this film to something like Life Is Beautiful that turned the Holocaust into an chance for laughs and sentimentality. Closer to the Moon does something a lot more interesting: giving us life and death, love and sex, tradition and a taste of modernity, art and propaganda, achievement and sacrifice, all within a movie within a movie -- in which ironies abound but are never cheap.

The mystery at the core is why this group of people did what they did. An answer surfaces but explains only partially. The real explanation involves history, prejudice and art as a kind of freedom (or maybe freedom as a kind of art). In addition to Farmiga and Strong, the fine actors include Christian McKay (above, center), Harry Lloyd (below, left), Alan Corduner, Anton Lesser, Joe Armstrong, Tim Plester and David de Keyser.

Once again, our cultural guardians -- who managed to give this film a dismal 38 % rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- missed the boat. (Audiences however, knew better: 78% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.6 rating on the IMDB). When an arthouse/mainstream movie is this well-conceived and well-executed in the writing, directing and acting departments, and is full of ideas and simply beautiful to view, passing it up is a dumb idea indeed.

So take a chance when Closer to the Moon appears on DVD -- from IFC Films and Sundance Selects and running 112 minutes -- this coming Tuesday, September 15.

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