Lonely Planet Romania & Moldova
In a small Romanian town in the Danube Delta where a river meets the sea, a village that might be a stand-in for any poor and somewhat backward community anywhere, a 16-year old girl's level of maturity has brought her to a vital issue of identity that must be resolved. She, too, is a standin.
On the one hand, Ryna (Doroteea Petre) is her father's little boy-girl who's skill in auto mechanics has become superior to his own. She's also fully conscious of her role as the son he always wanted, and she fulfills it in every way, down to wearing workmen's coveralls and other loose garments to hide the features of her gender which are now in conflict with the tomboy that pleases dad so much. Even when he insists on cutting her magnificent head of curly black hair down to a boy's inch, she submits. With the curls gone she's lost a factor of womanly appeal, but the natural beauty and the gutsy temperament of the personality remain, unspoiled.
You simply can't take your eyes off this girl.
Biri, her father (Valentin Popescu) is a coarse peasant, given to drink, greed and terrible judgement. As a man and a breadwinner for his family, his only virtue would seem to be what sensitivity and apparent love he shows to his daughter. Completing the family circle is his wife and Ryna's mother (Aura Calarasu) and grandpa George (Matthieu Roz‚) whose love and protection are both dependable and complete.
But, more and more as she's been growing up, it's becomes evident that she's the town catch, and men have their eyes on her. The postman (Theodor Delciu) for whom she demonstrates a liking, professes his love; Marcu (Constantin Ghenescu), a French doctor with a resemblance to young Roman Polanski with a beard, arrives on the outskirts of town with an engine problem and soon becomes one of her courtiers; and the piggish slime of a mayor lets his lustful interest and bullying ways be known. It's no coincidence when Ryna rejects his tasteless approaches that Biri's permit to operate his business is cancelled.
Which only adds to Biri's business worries as it becomes evident that fewer and fewer people are in need of repairs, leading to a string of actions that are going to alter the family's situation. First, he takes Ryna out on one of his nighttime raids in which daddy's little grease monkey crawls under cars to cripple them in some mechanical way. Further soured by his financial desperation, he insults his wife over the dinner table, causing her to leave the household. Later, she invites Ryna by letter to join her in exile.
The idea appeals to Ryna's sense of who she now is, and she asserts her womanhood to a father who is in denial and can't face another impending loss. But, she's in more danger than she knows by having to wait in the truck during dad's many forays at the village tavern where he goes into a drunken stupor. She waits, exposed to whatever, until she determines that he can be driven back home.
All of which is a demonstration of the creative magic that's possible when there's perfect synergy between story and star. Writer-director Ruxandra Zenide could not have better fulfilled her and co-writer Marek Epstein's family tragedy than through the eyes, temperament and development of this teenage character who is so expressively brought to life by Doroteea Petre. If this film is seen in the numbers it deserves, it should mark her as a talent destined to make a deep impression on international cinema.
As I said, I couldn't take my eyes off of her. And, I couldn't care about all the forces affecting her destiny more.