Outbound (2010) dir. Bogdan George Apetri
Starring: Ana Ularu, Mimi Branescu, Andi Vasluianu, Ioana Flora, Timotei Duma
By Alan Bacchus
An allstar team of Golden Age Romanian filmmakers, including Cristian Mungiu, contribute to writing this latest slice of Romanian social realism. Like Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days Bogdan Apetri goes through the movements of one day in the life of a woman on a journey with the drama resulting from the minute by minute details of the task. Unfortunately, while Four Months was precise in its journey, Apetri’s film is too murky and loose to have the same emotional effect.
The lead character Matilda is introduced as a prison inmate on 24 hour leave, looking to reconnect with her 8 year old son and magically erase the mistakes of her past. She’s like a Dardenne Bros character, short on words, long on determination. Young actress Ana Ularu is exceptional. She has the type of hardened face which shows years of abuse, torment, and frustration. A steady look or stare from her has the sharp sting of a dagger.
Apetri splits the day, and thus the narrative, into three meetings with three key people. Naturally it becomes the traditional three act structure, but this is where screenwriting fundamentals ends. The first act, entitled Paul, shows Matilda reconnecting with her brother, and trying to coax him into taking her 8 year old daughter in their custody, either that or give her money to let her escape abroad and into freedom. The second act is entitled Andrei, representing her meeting with her old pimp (oh yeah, of course she’s a prostitute) and also the father of her child. He’s barely any help either, but brokers a trick from one of his higher priced hookers to pay back Matilda from some job in the past. Lastly the third chapter Toma shows the reunification with of mother and son.
Unfortunately after each chapter we never see the other characters again, leaving a number of loose ends, and unresolved plotting. By the end, we wonder whatever happened to Paul, or his wife, or Andrei or that poor hooker who was being abused by the sicko businessman. Apetri injects even more bleakness into Toma’s life in an orphanage, more sexual exploitation - as if we don’t have enough of that in Eastern European cinema. Sadly these stories are more interesting that Matilda’s ultimate reunification, which arbitrarily ends just when it was getting interesting.