REVIEW: Occident

Monday, October 13, 2008 at 11:16 p.m.

This is the twentieth film I saw at the 13th Pusan International Film Festival.

I wanted to catch this one because I was impressed with Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, which I saw at the Telluride Film Festival last year and which also won the Palme D'or during the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Even though this isn't a new film (released in 2002), and the reason it is screened in PIFF is due to their Romanian retrospective. Romanian cinema has seen a sudden rise in its presence in major international film festivals, culminating with Mungiu's win, of course, and as such more and more people are beginning to pay attention to films from this country.

Anyway, Occident is, once again, using the same multi-plot structure employed in Amores Perros, where three separate stories converge - or rather, in this case, diverge - from a single event. The event here is quite arbitrary, actually, and in fact isn't the point. The more important thing is following the characters in all three stories.

In the first we have Luci and Sorina, who have just lost their home because Luci couldn't pay the rent. So Sorina leaves him for another man who actually has some cash, a foreigner to boot. Luci, in order to gain back Sorina, finds a job at the local shopping mall as a mascot.

In the second we have Mihaela, whose parents really want her to get married, and her mother resorts to arranging blind proposals for Mihaela. A very promising prospect turns up - an Italian, who owns a publishing house, who's young and not deformed, and yes he loves Mihaela's poems. The day arrives when the Italian shows up to claim the bride - and what a shock the family gets when they see him ...

In the third we have Mihaela's father, a just retired police chief, who gets an unexpected visitor. Together they have to break some bad news to Luci.

In between these three stories, are lots of connections flying in all directions, with so many supporting characters, and yet I managed to follow them all without confusion. Once again, it's a film that attests to Mungiu's writing and direction, though what's different between this film and 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days is that it shows Mungiu's ability to hold many plot strands and many characters without it getting out of hand. Essentially Mungiu created a mini-society with all his characters, a micro-cosm, and it's about watching how their interactions with different sets of characters play out. There's humour, there's drama, and there's a little bit of romance too.

The pacing is generally good, and it doesn't do that annoying that some multi-plot films do by repeating the same scenes over and over again. Instead, it assumes the audience remembers it from the first time they see it earlier in the film, and shows the audience another angle of the scene that reveals totally new connections. You do have to keep up with this film.

The title of the film refers to how many of the characters seem to be on a path of moving out of the country; at one point, Mihaela's father complains about all these youngsters moving away. "What's wrong with Romania?" he asks. (Occident is the opposite of Orient.)

It's nothing extraordinary, just good filmmaking craft. And maybe that's enough, and yet maybe not.

How Good I Think The Film Is: 8/10
How Much I Liked It: 7.5/10


Links to the other 30 reviews of films seen at the film festival, and other articles.

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