Nae Caranfil’s Filantropica (Philanthropy) is a comedy about a man attempting to live beyond his means. Ovidiu (Mircea Diaconu) is a teacher and struggling writer who still resides with his parents. He falls in love with Diana (Viorica Voda), the sister of one of his students. In order to impress her he agrees to a scam thought up by the roguish Pepe (Gheorghe Dinica). The scam involves Ovidiu pretending to be married to Miruna (Mara Nicolescu). — Perry Seibert
Charity Theme Too Close to Home, 25 January 2003
Author: (firstname.lastname@example.org) from St. Catahrines, Ontario
Director Nae Caranfil wasn’t short of Romanian anecdotes and stories before the screening of his fourth feature film when I saw it at the Palm Springs International Film Festival: Q: What’s the difference between a Romania pessimist and optimist; A: “The pessimist says, ‘Things couldn’t possibly get worse;’ the optimist says ‘Oh yes they can.'” And when those attending revealed their knowledge of his native country was confined to the birthplace of Dracula, we were assured, with a knowing grin, that the film to follow would be “a dark, hopeless, miserable comedy.” Well, three out of four isn’t bad!
Using stray dogs as metaphorical bookends the film purports to send up greed, education, governments and a host of social ills using charitable scamming as its glue. Unfortunately, in today’s climate of real stories of charities making front page news through scandal or mismanagement the plot’s major joke (fake married couple on the 10th anniversary in expensive restaurant, have no cash, big scene with on-the-take-waiter, do-gooder patrons pay off the inflated bill) seems more of a documentary than fiction, thus killing the satire.
But the hero as failed writer provides a much better vehicle for black humour that sets up the funniest moments: the railway poet who recites for vodka, only to reveal that he has just two poems and neither of them are his; and wonderfully believable Philanthropy Foundation where writing the lines the for percentage-based fund-beggars on the cash-only payroll brings in a steady flow of charitable donations. Their motto is bang on: “An outstretched hand with no story to tell doesn’t work.”
And so its savvy chairman (Gheorghe Dinica) writes the scripts that include a violinist (who’s never played a note but has been coached on how to hold the instrument) that has given up playing in his despair (best to beg near government culture institutions) and climaxes with the beating literature teacher by day Ovidu (played with charming naivety by Florin Calinescu) which leads to a television appearance where a special account is set up for the public to contribute to this unfortunate couple whose only crime was to try and have one night out for their anniversary. Even the sub-plot of the literature teacher trying to seduce one of his most belligerent student’s sister is filled with false fronts shallowness. But, it forces him to agree to the scamming so as to have the cash to artificially improve his lifestyle and attempt to bed her when, inevitably, his deception is revealed just on the point on entry. But like the too-forgiving Philip in Of Human Bondage Ovidu keeps going back for more, finally stealing from the foundation to pay the debts of his wayward student only to discover he’s given the dough to the sister that wasn’t (quelle suprise!). Oh well, at least he gets to keep the girl he’s been fictitiously married to for the past decade, forever proving that lies can be lived into reality!
Still, the film does provoke thought and is blessed with a knowing camera and a gypsy-esque score composed and performed by Marius Mihalache that adds much to the pace.
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