In 1999, a troupe of US marines must transport some equipment across Romania. Leading them is Captain Doug Jones (Armand Assante), a man so committed to his duty that he does a pretty convincing job of appearing passionate and proud about what is, on the face of it, a rather dull, two-bit assignment. As matters develop, the mission is far from dull, though it is not interesting in the way Jones might have hoped. The train is waylaid in the small town of Capalnita by the corrupt stationmaster, and a comical clash of cultures ensues.
Director (and co-writer) Cristian Nemescu was killed in a car accident before he had finished editing the film, and it is likely that his final version would have run less than the current 154 minutes, which is long for a comedy. Nonetheless, there has been no second-guessing of his artistic intent, and the film is presented as he left it, and if it isn’t as tight as it probably would have been, had Nemescu been able to complete it, it’s still a remarkable piece of work, with wonderful, finely observed (and performed) characters, and a sharp, wry sense of humour.
The colours are strong and natural. Blacks, flesh tones and contrasts are all very good, too. There is no grain to speak of, nor is edge enhancement an issue. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio is preserved, giving what is finally a character piece a sense of the (literally) wide gulf that can separate people. An excellent transfer.
The audio is limited to 2.0, which is a little surprising for a recent film. Even so, the audio track is a very solid one, with excellent environmental effects. Take the early scene at the harbour, for instance: there is a very nice sense of place created by the sound of gulls calling from the rear speakers. The dialogue is distortion-free. On this subject, the subtitles insist on re-transcribing the English lines, which is a little distracting.
One wonders what the director might have gone on to do, given how accomplished his first feature is. At least we have this one.