In "Best Intentions," a real-time family drama in which a young man continually worries about his mother's health, the tension fluctuates but never sits still. Following up his 2008 directorial debut "Hooked," Romanian filmmaker Adrian Sitaru constructs a temporally complex psychological thriller, mixing contemporary Romanian realist traditions with a thoughtful subjective technique.
The story concerns expectations more than follow-through, so the stakes are always uncertain. However, it compensates for the lack of a strong payoff with unique insight into irrational behavior.
The anxious man in question is Budapest resident Alex (Bogdan Dumitrache), a mid-30s head case first seen squabbling with his girlfriend about her cleaning habits. His anal retentiveness lands a much bigger target moments later, when he gets a call from his father announcing that his mother (Natasa Raab) has been sent to the hospital after a stroke. Initially frozen in shock, Alex slowly pulls himself together and heads for the train station.
The journey is a slow one. Alex makes small talk with a nosy train passenger and calls his father for more details. Here Sitaru introduces his bold narrative device: The passenger is the first of many people whose point of view merges with our own, as the director turns head-cams into the guiding motif. Throughout the movie, many such angles are used, but never from Alex's perspective. Sitaru delves into the nature of anxiety by stepping outside it, while providing a constant reminder that all behavior is in the eye of the beholder.
Alex always feels convinced he has reason for concern. He arrives at the hospital to find his doped-up mom drifting in and out of lucidity. Coping with his father's resigned attitude and a colorful group of hospital inmates, Alex can't sit still. He goes head to head with his mother's easygoing doctor and begins insisting that he move her to another hospital. "The first 24 hours are crucial!" he moans, not only talking about his mother's health but unconsciously referencing his sanity as well.
The night passes without incident and Alex's mother starts to improve, but he remains sick with uneasiness. He can't find a way to turn off his jitters and begins to lash out, eventually becoming ostracized by the people he intends to help. "You believe all the morons," he tells his parents when they insist that all is well. Over time, he starts to slow down and slip up, worsening a situation that has begun to improve and realizing that he could critique his behavior as well anyone else.
Like many Romanian movies of the moment, "Best Intentions" invests heavily in the feeling of time passing. With its organic construction of a hospital environment, the movie begs comparison to "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," although its interests are less grim. With Alex's mother in recovery for most of the running time, "Best Intentions" shifts focus from the illness to its lasting effect on Alex as he comes to grips with the mortality of his loved ones.
In this regard, the ongoing POV shots externalize his emotional transition. Always wide-eyed and on the brink of argument, he refuses to admit his inner frailty and projects it onto others. The movie ends with him as anxious as ever, but more self-aware. While lacking a precise resolution, "Best Intentions" concludes on the brink, one phone call away from disaster -- or at least one man's anticipation of it.
criticWIRE grade: B+
HOW WILL IT PLAY? A committed North American distributor could help ride the art-house interest in recent Romanian films and gain a decent reception for "Best Intentions" in limited release at theaters kind to this type of material like New York's Film Forum, although its long-term commercial prospects are relatively slim.