Intregalde: Film Review
Writer-director Radu Muntean’s latest feature, which premiered last year in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, follows three aid workers on a mission in rural Romania.
In what looks like the setup for a Romanian version of Deliverance, a trio of humanitarian workers from Bucharest find themselves stuck in an eerie, remote part of the country filled with a generally hostile local population. And yet, this latest feature by Tuesday, After Christmas writer-director Radu Muntean is anything but a backwoods exploitation flick, focusing instead on the squabbles of a few ego-driven volunteers who are meant to be helping others but can’t even help themselves.
Like many good Romanian movies, Intregalde is a chatty, cleverly structured satire, albeit one that could have used a little more gas in its tank. The subtleties and vagaries of human behavior sometimes get lost in the sheer mundanity of the action, although the film gradually builds toward a meaningful depiction of what charity actually means — and it’s far from what the volunteers set out to do in the first place.
Release date: Friday, March 18
Cast: Maria Popistasu, Ilona Brezoianu, Alex Bogdan, Luca Sabin, Toma Cuzin, Bondi Gabor, Radu Muntean
Things start off routinely enough, and never really veer from that route despite the detours the characters take, as a convoy of humanitarian vehicles sets out from Bucharest with aid packages destined for Romanians living in the farthest reaches of the land. We catch snippets of banter between Maria (Maria Popistasu), Ilinca (Ilona Brezoianu) and Dan (Alex Bogdan) as they drive through the countryside, showing little interest in the locals they’re meant to be assisting. They even outright mock them at times, such as with an injured old woman who claims she was bitten by a pig.
Muntean constantly underlines the workers’ condescending attitude, showing how they’re more concerned by their love and sex lives than by the inhabitants they visit. This all changes when they go off-course after picking up Kente (Luca Sabin), an elderly local who seems forever lost and who winds up steering them straight into the mud. With no way to get their jeep out, they’re forced to rely on the country folk for assistance. Suddenly the roles are reversed and the volunteers seem utterly helpless.
If this were a horror movie, the team would be picked off one by one as they lost their way in the woods, and there are several moments when Intregalde hints at that kind of scenario. A good portion of the film is set in darkness — DP Tudor Vladimir Panduru (Graduation) manages to add texture to all the gloom — with the trio using flashlights or cell phones to see where they’re going. There’s talk of wolves and bears, a pair of Romani workers who try to help out but whose motives aren’t clear, and an abandoned mill that looks perfect for the next sequel of The Blair Witch Project.
The director seems to be toying with these elements, leading us, and the characters, deep into the wild but then holding back from anything truly dramatic, keeping the plot forever within a plausible realm. He’s much more interested in portraying the petty nature of the workers, especially Ilinca and Dan, who can’t seem to see beyond their own inconveniences and dinner plans, with the spot-on naturalistic dialogue channeling their growing unease and discomfort. Maria, meanwhile, seems to genuinely care about the wellbeing of others, especially the feeble and senile Kente.
As someone requiring full-time assistance, the old man eventually turns into the spiritual center of Intregalde, forcing the volunteers to decide whether they want to help him or leave him behind. Muntean slyly reveals the difference between a professionally organized humanitarian intervention and the reality of sacrificing your own comfort for someone in need, which can be a whole lot less glamorous, as evidenced in the film’s closing scenes.
By then, Maria, Ilinca and Dan have had a taste of what it’s like to be needy as well, subsisting on snacks leftover from their aid packages and building a fire in order to survive the night. Sadly — and Muntean seems to be stressing this point — it’s not clear they’re even capable of grasping the extreme irony of their situation, so much are they worried about saving their own skin. The final shot of the movie, which echoes an image from the beginning, shows the NGO vehicles casually arriving back at the main office in Bucharest. Their mission has been accomplished, but for whom, exactly?
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