April 20, 2008
Don't Lean Out the Window, 1994
A thematic structure that continues to surface in several of the post 1989 Revolution films during the Shining Through a Long, Dark Night: Romanian Cinema, Then and Now series is the use of an intertwining, circular narrative as a metaphor for national self-reflection - and re-evaluation - in the aftermath of the Nicolae Ceauşescu regime and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and this aesthetic is reflected in the composition of Nae Caranfil's watershed film, Don't Lean Out the Window, a story in three parts showing the intersecting lives of young people in transition. The film presciently opens to the idyllic image soldiers conducting their field maneuvers on an open field near the side of the road, their mock drills briefly interrupted by the sight of a young woman looking out the window of a nearby passing train. In hindsight, this image crystallizes the sense of transience and coincidence that would briefly connect the lives of Cristina (Nathalie Bonnifay) a student nearing graduation, Dinu (George Alexandru), an itinerant stage actor (and erstwhile film star) separated from his wife, and Cristina's suitor, Horatiu (Marius Stanescu) a soldier serving the final days of his compulsory military service in the small town. Set in the waning days of communism, the sense of disorder and collapse of authority is established in the earliest shots of the first chapter, The Student, as a teacher's rote regurgitation on the state policy of natality plays out before an unruly classroom as students openly distribute birth control pills obtained from the black market. Alternately occupying her time sorting potatoes for transportation at a collective farm and preparing for her university admissions exams with the bookish Horatiu in a decommissioned train car at an abandoned rail yard, Cristina's life in the small town seems equally derailed until the dashing actor, Dinu approaches her with an enigmatic question over the authorship of some secret admirer letters, and with it, the possibility of life away from the insular town. Infused with a dry humor and situational absurdity that has also become characteristic of certain noteworthy, contemporary Eastern European cinema (most notably, Béla Tarr and compatriot Cristi Puiu), Don't Lean Out the Window is a well crafted, if occasionally caricatured portrait of a nation at a profound political and cultural crossroads, where the anonymous, if familiar structure of repression has begun to collapse under the anarchic weight of an uncertain, encroaching liberation and (re)emerging identity.