Thursday, June 13, 2024

“THREE KILOMETRES TO THE END OF THE WORLD”

THE STORY – Adi is spending the summer in his home village in the Danube Delta. One night he is brutally attacked on the street, the next day his world is turned upside-down. His parents no longer look at him as they did, and the seeming tranquility of the village starts to crack.

THE CAST – Laura Vasiliu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Ciprian Chiujdea, Ingrid Micu-Berescu, Valeriu Andriuță & Adrian Titieni

THE TEAM – Emanuel Pârvu (Director/Writer) & Miruna Berescu (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 105 Minutes


“Three Kilometers to the End of the World,” winner of the Queer Palm at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, is a gripping small-town Romanian drama from actor-turned-director Emanuel Parvu, who also co-wrote the script with Miruna Berescu. The title is never explained in the film, but it’s the equivalent of saying “the middle of nowhere” with a dash of extra fatalism, a mood that perfectly fits the ensuing drama.

Set in a small village on the Danube Delta, the plot centers on a religious family man, Dragoi (Bogdan Dumitrache), who owes a sizable debt to the local gangster Zentov (Richard Bovnoczki). When his young son, 17-year-old Adi (Ciprian Chiujdea), is violently beaten by Zentov’s two thuggish sons, Dragoi is furious and files a police report, believing the act to be an act of coercion, ordered by Zentov with the intention of forcing him to pay his debts.

However, when the police chief (Valeriu Andriuță) questions Zentov’s sons, it transpires that they carried out the beating because they saw Adi kissing a male tourist from Bucharest on the beaches, horrifying both Dragoi and his wife (Laura Vasiliu), who had no idea of their son’s sexuality, believing he was dating his friend, Illinca (Ingrid Micu-Berescu). Zentov offers to cancel Dragoi’s debts in return for not pressing charges, leaving him with a complex dilemma. Should he pursue justice for his son, even though that means revealing his sexuality to the whole village (and accepting it himself), or take the payoff and allow Zentov’s sons to get away with their crime?

As the story unfolds, the full extent of the village’s corruption and collective homophobia becomes depressingly clear. The police are clearly in the pockets of Zentov, and at least one character proffers the opinion that maybe Adi deserved his beating because of his sexuality. Similarly, everybody involved seems to agree that it would be in the best interest of the village to keep the incident quiet because, according to Zentov, if it gets out, then more homosexuals might visit the town with their drug-taking, tattoos, piercings, and their nocturnal beach-based activities.

On a similar note, Adi’s God-fearing mother is visibly more distressed by the truth of her son’s sexuality than she is by the beating itself and her somewhat extreme reaction – to tie him up in his bedroom and persuade the local priest to perform an exorcism – proves even more violent and destructive. It provides the film with an air of comic horror laced with tragedy. Additionally, the Romanian Orthodox Church turns out to be comically clueless, too, as the priest muses that Adi might have turned gay as a result of the COVID vaccine.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is Parvu’s choice of perspective. The audience is not shown either the inciting kiss or the beating itself – we discover the violence along with Adi’s parents, when they find him in bed the following day, bruised all over with a badly swollen face. That makes narrative sense, in that the story is primarily centered on the parents’ point-of-view – underlining the idea that they don’t fully see their son for who he is – but that decision also means that Adi is perversely removed in his own story. As a result, he has barely any dialogue, so the audience is left in the dark as to the knowledge of the victim’s own thoughts, feelings, and desires to the extent that we don’t even know if he wants the same justice for his attackers as his father does.

Bogdan Dumitrache is terrific as Dragoi, delivering a complex performance that perfectly encapsulates his warring feelings of love, anger, and shame toward his son. Richard Bovnoczki is equally good as Zentov, whose protective fatherly instinct mirrors Dragoi’s, and there is heart-breaking support from Laura Vasiliu. However, Ingrid Micu-Berescu is disappointingly under-used as Illinca.

In addition, Parvu gives the film a strong sense of place, accentuated by some striking location work, particularly of the picturesque farmland and cinematographer Silviu Stavila’s stunning widescreen compositions. The atmosphere is further heightened by some impressive sound design work that makes you physically feel the warm summer breeze in the reeds.

Parvu may not be interested in the correct course of action his protagonist should take. Instead, he seems to be stating that, sometimes, the right thing happens for the wrong reason. This allows for a quiet note of hope, encapsulated by a terrific final shot that offers a degree of relief at the end of such an emotionally fraught and painful tale.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A complex and emotional mix of repressed small-town family drama, corrupt police procedural, and nightmarish coming-out story, this is a compelling picture that confirms Parvu as a directorial talent to watch.

THE BAD - The decision to de-centre the character of the victim is both bold and intriguing, though it ultimately backfires, robbing the story of an additional emotional connection.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A complex and emotional mix of repressed small-town family drama, corrupt police procedural, and nightmarish coming-out story, this is a compelling picture that confirms Parvu as a directorial talent to watch.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The decision to de-centre the character of the victim is both bold and intriguing, though it ultimately backfires, robbing the story of an additional emotional connection.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"THREE KILOMETRES TO THE END OF THE WORLD"