out of Five
Running time: 155
Engaging, impressively directed and ultimately devastating drama with strong performances and a powerful political message.
What's it all about?
Set in 1999, the film centres on a group of US Marines, led by Captain Jones (Armand Assante), who wind up in the small Romanian village of Capalnita when bolshy local station master-slash-black marketeer Doiaru (Razvan Vasilescu) deliberately delays their NATO train. Doiaru is at least partially motivated by his own tragic past (gradually revealed in flashback), when Romanians expected the Americans to rescue them in the mid-1940s and they never arrived.
Meanwhile, Doiaru's teenaged daughter Monica (Maria Dinelescu) attempts to run away and ends up falling for one of the soldiers on the train (Jamie Elman). Finally, after several days of delay, tensions appear to relax when soldiers and townspeople mingle at a village festival.
There's a tragic story behind the bracketed subtitle (which should really read "Unfinished" instead of "Endless"), because debut director Cristian Nemescu was killed in a car crash before he could finish editing the film. Nonetheless, California Dreamin' deservedly won the Un Certain Regard award at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Despite its seemingly punishing two and a half hour running time, California Dreamin' is surprisingly gripping, considering it mostly centres on a delayed train. The interactions between the characters are extremely well written and the performances are superb, particularly Vasilescu (who does well to keep Doiaru even remotely sympathetic) and Dinelescu, who looks a bit like Audrey Tautou.
Alongside genuinely engaging characters, the film pulls no punches with its political subtext – it doesn't take a genius to work out the parallels with today's US foreign policy, especially after the shocking climax. There's also a lot of humour in the film (particularly during the various translation scenes) and Nemescu paints a convincing portrait of smalltown Romanian culture.
In short, California Dreamin' is a thoroughly engaging, superbly directed drama that demands to be seen. Recommended.
California Dreamin' (Endless) (California Dreamin' (Nesfarsit)) (15)