In a sphere that has long preferred to showcase the post-communist, impoverished Romania, Serge Ioan Celibidachi’s OCTAV is like an open window, breathing a different sort of cool air into a loaded atmosphere.
The film follows the story of Octav Petrescu, played by Marcel Iureș, an elderly man that returns to his childhood mansion in Romania with the intention of selling of it. Arriving there after an decades-long absence, Octav is confronted and transformed by the memories and spectres of his childhood, as his soul is thawed and made young once more.
Marcel Iureș is a remarkable countenance. Throughout an empty domain, his is a voice that resounds, as you would expect from an actor who played Richard III. Initially walled-up and enigmatic, although heavily intense as the elderly Octav, Iureș enters a child’s personality in an old man’s body without being absurd or repulsive.
Alessia Tofan, as the little Ana, played remarkably expressively and spontaneously, defying an age where children usually play in a bland manner. Lia Bugnar is memorable as the mother, resisting the urge to overly dramatize a stormy character and remaining understated but at the same time, haunting.
There are many characters in the film and I found some others a bit wooden and lacking in expression. This may be a result of restricted character development.
Attention to detail pervades the cinematography, as the viewer usurps the artist’s eyes through panes of glass and wild summer plains. It is a slight twist of the Italian style that has served as a successful art house alternative to Hollywood in the past few decades: director of photography, Blasco Giurato who is famous for his collaboration with the director Giuseppe Tornatore, calls this film his ‘testament on 35mm’. The Romanian-British co-production, like these others films, is accompanied by an enchanting melody composed by Vladimir Cosma.
The cinematographer is not the only commonalities with Tornatore’s films: OCTAV, like Malena and Cinema Paradiso, leaves in its wake a reverberating impression. This is in part due to the heavy presence of biographical elements: the name is no coincidence; director Serge Ioan Celibidache is the son of Sergiu Celibidache, the renowned conductor. As such, Iures bears a physical resemblance to the elder Celibidache and plays a character that has spent a life in exile. A scene in which Octav’s father (played with much finesse by Ioan Andrei Ionescu) likens a life to a piece of music quite touchingly seems to be a personal testimony to an extent.
The idea of traveling to an ‘inner time’ brings to mind a film adaptation of Mircea Eliade’s short story, ‘Youth without Youth’. It is troubling, very troubling. Considering the film as I watched it, I was overcome with a notion that has struck me fleetingly looking at old family photos: the past is present within us, present somewhere, and therefore is never really past. This film makes that idea seem almost palpable, and the viewer finds him or herself rather surprisingly hoping for that extra stretch: please let it be real, let it be real again…
In my admitted gushing, I don’t intend to imply that the film is perfect. Some structural perfecting would have made it a true masterpiece, and the artificial manner of speech adopted by some minor characters did occasionally jar the viewing experience. What is remarkable is the lack of vulgarity in an age so sexually oriented.
After seeing it in the cinema, I thought about this film before I went to sleep. I am intrigued, and enchanted, by the idea that people and places may exist indeed forever, by the fact that someone was there to witness and remember them. It awakened something in me. There is no plot, it is definitely a film for connoisseurs, and in essence a beautifully spoken tale, bearing the aura of a confidence or rare intimacy between its creators and the viewers.