A.O. Scott’s NY Times review of Cristian Nemescu’s “California Dreamin’” (1/23/09), The Americans Arrive and Cultures Collide, could be a reference to Scott himself and his relationship to Romanian cinema; that of imperialist critic – who like the character Captain Jones played by Armand Assante in Nemescu’s film of whom Scott writes, “arrives, as Americans so often do, with high ideals and good intentions, greeting the people of Capalnita with a sincere respect that contains more than a hint of condescension” – to a group of post-totalitarian regime filmmakers that insist they aren’t a Romanian New Wave despite Scott’s assurances to the contrary.
If this all sounds familiar it’s because I’ve already taken Scott to task for his penchant for patronizing in Nonsense at the Grey Lady, which I posted in response to the critic’s trip to the Black Sea in search of a New Wave that he’d already made up his mind existed, and when he couldn’t find a Romanian director to validate his American assumptions he simply invented his own validations. Interestingly, the young Nemescu wasn’t much included in this prior article for the NY Times Magazine, perhaps because he’d died in a car crash at the age of 27 right after completing his only feature film, or perhaps because he was an exception to the New Wave rule, or as Scott writes of this “rambunctious, closely observed comedy of cultural collision,” “Compared with Cristi Puiu’s “Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (to limit the field to Cannes prize-winners by directors with nearly identical first names), “California Dreamin’ ” filters its local concerns through a restless pop sensibility.”
You see, according to Scott, it couldn’t possibly be that each of these directors is operating in his own individual, globally influenced world as opposed to as one local collective mind. I guess kind of like that American wave consisting of Lynch and Fincher (you know, just “to limit the field to Academy Award-nominated directors with identical first names”).
“The Americans, so powerful and confident, so attractive and so clueless, are regarded with ambivalence by the Romanians (including the director), whose self-image combines a sense of grievance with a certain stiff-necked pride,” Scott concludes. “They live in a small country that has often found itself in the path of imperial powers, a condition they address with guile, stubbornness and a measure of grace.” As did a very diverse group of filmmakers when a clueless critic once visited them on the Black Sea.