‘Three Kilometers To The End Of The World’ Review: Emanuel Parvu’s Drama An Expansive Tale Of Corruption And Lies – Cannes Film Festival

When Adi (Ciprian Chiujdea) is beaten up outside the one dance club in the village where he grew up, his father takes up the cudgels, chivvying the local police chief into finding out who did it. It would be obvious enough to anyone but dad Dragoi (Bogdan Dumitrache) that this is a straight-up case of gay-bashing, which would seem to signal that Emanuel Parvu’s Cannes Competition title Three Kilometers to the End of the World, a slice of Romanian life, will be a worthy but familiar story of a boy’s coming out to a hostile world. Indeed, bloodied Adi with his black eyes and traumatic lesions is soon being punished, locked in his room by his parents as his desperate mother prays to the icons on the wall for guidance. We have undoubtedly been down this donkey-track before.

Nothing in a small village, however, happens in isolation. The beating has points of connection with so many aspects of community life and its power brokers – the police chief on the brink of retirement, the local property king whose sons do the bashing and to whom Dragoi owes a sum of money he has no hope of pulling together, the priest whose authority derives from the faithful and the fearful – that Parvu’s film becomes something like an emotional map of the community.

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Instead of roads and houses, it shows where friendship, mutual support and favors exchanged have rotted into the muck of corruption. Instead of landmarks, it shows the culture’s stress points. As the story progresses, Adi himself becomes the still center of a swirl of forces that act together – as they would have done in so many other circumstances — to ensure justice will never be done.

Nor will the family heal. Adi has just finished school and is applying to universities. His parents live from fishing and poaching. They know their son is clever and have made sacrifices to keep him in a city school; he is their life. Dumitrache — perhaps the leading actor of the Romanian New Wave — grows increasingly hollow-eyed with misery as Dragoi, whose hopes for the future are entirely invested in his beloved son, sees his small world fall apart. His wife (Laura Vasiliu, a noted theater actor) is blank with incomprehension that God has let her down so badly. Their bewildered despair becomes the focus as Adi waits out their flailing, furious attempts to fix things.

Parvu is careful to show the complexity of these people as well as of their weave of betrayals, mistakes and wrongdoing. Even Zentov (Richard Bovnoczki), to whom bribes and threats are everyday calling cards, lashes out hard only because he knows his sons face prison time. He wants to protect them, as he tells Dragoi; doesn’t he also want to protect his son? The local priest (Adrian Titieni), who presides over a scene of forced exorcism that is truly sickening, clearly believes his own justification for his petty authority: that he should be trusted in the same way people trust doctors.

The actors bring to these portraits the naturalistic ease combined with intensity that is a hallmark of Romanian New Wave cinema, each one a whole person with their own reasons. Zentov and his confederates may be villains, but not the kind who wear capes: It is villainy submerged in normality.

The story is set in the Danube delta, where sunsets are vast and it is possible to go anywhere else only by boat. A widescreen format leaves room to show this expanse of wetlands in all its glory; there is no music, but a constant susurration of wind in the trees and bushes, sometimes accompanied by the ripple of water in the reeds at the water’s edge, provides a perfect soundtrack, the rustling of leaves a calm presence that can also feel frenetic when amplified. Adi texts the boy he met at the disco – a text revealed when his father forces him to open up his phone – to say he feels as if he is suffocating. Yet this is a place, as Parvu shows us, where there should be so much room to breathe. If they could just look about them, they might all be free.

Title: Three Kilometers to the End of the World
Festival: Cannes (Competition)
Director-screenwriter: Emanuel Parvu
Cast: Bogdan Dumitrache, Ciprian Chiujdea, Laura Vasily
Sales agent: Memento
Running time: 1 hr 45 min

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