A story as poignant as it is unusual, 'California Dreamin' (Endless)' marked the feature directing debut of Cristian Nemescu, a 27-seven-year-old Romanian filmmaker who was killed in a car crash - along with sound designer Andrei Toncu - before the final cut of his film was complete. His legacy is a collection of shorts, this compelling work and much thinking about what he could've brought to cinema in the years ahead. These 155 minutes say a lot.
As the conflict in Kosovo rages, a group of American soldiers transport communications equipment across Romania towards the region. Led by the taciturn Captain Jones (Assante), it seems like a fairly routine mission. Until the train arrives at the village of Capalnita. There Jones and his men encounter Doiaru (Vasilescu), the wheeler dealer station master who refuses to let the train pass without all the correct documentation.
The stand-off escalates: hours become days, the sun gets warmer, Jones' fuse becomes shorter, Doiaru's resolve hardens, the soldiers start turning their attention towards the local girls and the villagers get used to having the Americans around. Someone has to blink first.
If you're looking for a film that runs the gamut of emotions, shifts your allegiances and spoils you with memorable, understated performances, then 'California Dreamin' (Endless)' will be over all too soon. It's a film that explores the aftermath of Communism, US foreign policy, poverty and affluence but says things very subtly and through the hardwired desire of human beings to connect. There's love, despair, comedy, some surreal twists and an emotional complexity that's all too rare. Keep in mind we'll never know if this was the way its writer-director wanted his film to be seen.
Nemescu had signalled himself as someone who could do brilliant work with an ensemble cost. You'll see a group of actors - Assante and perhaps Elman accepted - who you've likely never watched in anything before but would love to see onscreen again. They make every character so rich and complex that mainstream cinema looks even duller than usual. Throughout, this feels like real life and real people. Afterwards you may find yourself a little wiser about both.