Something of a cross between Julie Bertucelli’s Since Otar Left and Bohdan Slama’s Something Like Happiness in its wry and affectionate portrait of Eastern European diaspora after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cristian Mungiu’s refined and ingeniously constructed first feature film, Occident also evokes the spirit of Krzysztof Kieslowski in its bittersweet, delicately interconnected tale of chance, coincidence, and longing. Similar to the three part structure of Nae Caranfil’s Don’t Lean Out the Window, the interlocking chapters of Occident chronicle the same unrequited tale, each gradually revealed through the peeled layers of the characters’ own unfolded, often comical stories of miscommunication, failed connection, and lost opportunity: an underemployed man, Luci (Alexandru Papadopol) who tries to win back the affections of his girlfriend, Sorina (Anca-Ioana Androne) after being evicted from their apartment (and who, in turn, has since moved in with their passing Belgian samaritan, Jerome (Samuel Tastet) after Luci is unexpectedly hit on the head with a flying bottle); his frail aunt Leana (Eugenia Bosânceanu) who has decided to leave everything for him in her will in the absence of her estranged son in Germany; his friend Gica (Ioan Gyuri Pascu) who tries to reunite the couple through unorthodox means (often with hilarious consequences); his co-worker (and fellow product mascot), Mihaela (Tania Popa), recently left at the altar by her fiancé on their wedding day, who sees in Luci a kindred spirit in their mutually wounded hearts; Mihaela’s father (Dorel Visan), a retiring police officer (and throwback to Securitate-styled surveillance tactics) who tries to feel useful by setting things right with his only child, searching for a suitable, foreign husband who will help her establish a new life elsewhere. Ever converging towards a flight away from the country (whether out of romantic impulse, career opportunity, or even adoption), Luci’s quixotic quest becomes integrally connected to the ephemeral pursuit of a distant, idealized West itself, where destiny lies, not in the alignment of fate, but in its sad divergence.
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