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An unidentified, carbonised corpse embodies the futility of the little-known "Drunk War", in this charming Moldovan comedy - live from the 22nd Transylvania International Film Festival

QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM TRANSYLVANIA

The year is 1992, and the action takes place in the breakaway region of Transnistria (in Northern Moldova). The Soviet Union collapsed a year earlier, however Russian imperialism continue to exercise its power in Eastern Europe. The conflict is named “Transnistrian War”, “Soviet Invasion” or the very suggestive “Drunk War”. Separatists want to run a government independent from Chisinau.

Unfortunately for those evil Russian imperialists, a new “war hero” could be about to take arms. Dima (Dumitru Roman) is a young tractor driver who decides to enlist because he has been lured with the promise of an apartment in the country’s capital once he returns victorious from the conflict. He also wishes to impress his girlfriend Ileana (Adriana Bitca), who has little trust in his sense of commitment and is gradually drifting away from the fraught relationship.

Vasea (Ion Vantu) is a veteran from the Afghan War with little sympathy for the Soviets who forced him to fight in a far-away land. He hesitatingly agrees to support his younger friend on his clumsy endeavour. Dima and Vasea set off on a road journey mounted on… lo and behold… their tractor! They come across the carbonated torso of a human being. It is impossible to identify who he/she may have been. Is that one of their Moldovan associates, or is that a Russian enemy? Whatever the answer, a sense of humanistic duty compels them to bury the body, with religious rites et al. This bizarre quest will land them in a myriad of problems. The urge to provide the charred body with a proper funeral becomes a symbol of the pointless War. The mayor, the deputy mayor, the police or even the local orthodox priest all refuse to aid Dima and Vasea. The religious leader is too busy blessing items (such as a car loaded with weapons) in exchange for money. He’s conveniently levering his newly-found religious freedom, after decades of a regime that actively discouraged religious activities.

Moldovans and Russians are barely ready to fight. They lack war equipment and skills, and they spend most of the time drinking vodka and rakia. Dima confesses that he doesn’t drink alcohol, only for Vasea to prophetically advise him: “you soon will”. This is a barely a war, but instead a shambolic conflict with no resolution at sight (Transnistria is still a de facto independent nation to this date, something which the film fails to reveal). The Russians are predictably portrayed as sadistic and evil, exactly as you would expect from a political comedy made in a disgruntled, former Soviet state.

Ion Bors’s first feature film offers abundant comic relief. It is funny and endearing to follow our noble protagonists (the only morally integral characters in the film) seeking a scintilla of humanity in a precarious society undergoing massive changes, and with little time for kindness. At one point, they have to forge allegiance to the enemy, otherwise they too might end up a little burnt out. The future of their small village community is also at stake. Everybody is running around aimlessly in search of an uncertain, elusive future.

The art direction and the cinematography will transport viewers to the early 1990s. Old ladies in costumes sing folk songs. Fuzzy television images announce that Moldovans should pledge allegiance to their new leader. The houses are hazardous and shaky. Electricity is as temperamental as the weather, with radio transmissions often cut short and characters left in the pitch dark. The street signs are falling apart: “…elcome” and “good-b…”. Even the alphabet is the subject of contention, with Moldovans tearing down Cyrillic inscriptions in favour of Latin ones. All in all, this little comedy will entertain you while drawing attention to a foolish conflict with little prospect of resolution. The story, however, lacks a little political contextualisation, particularly given the recent developments in neighbouring Ukraine. It was just last year that Belarusian dictator Lukashenko appeared in front of a battle map that showed a planned invasion of Moldova, as part of the “special military operations” in Ukraine.

Carbon is in the Official Competition of the 22nd Transylvania International Film Festival. DMovies is in loco unearthing the dirtiest gems exclusively for you.


By Victor Fraga - 16-06-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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