Hilarious Fake News and Heartbreaking Idealism

Afacerea Protar, Haralambie Boroș, 1955

Because it has nothing to do with communism, nor with pessimism, nor with the incredibly tedious self-identity issues promoted nowadays in each and every Film Festival, but chooses instead a genuine basis for a humorous, brilliant and stunning story — for all of that, let us turn to one of the unjustly forgotten Romanian treasure. (Oh wait, another thing it doesn’t have anything to do with is the “Protar” anastigmatic Zeiss-lens, of 1890 – sorry for disappointing fans!)

Earning a Palm d’Or nomination at Cannes for directing this feature in 1956, H. Boroș expands Mihail Sebastian’s comedy „The last hour“ into an amusing narrative which, nevertheless, doesn’t end its thrill-factor until its very last seconds. Who is going to win, in the end? The untalented editor and fortune hunter, exploiting the self-gratifying half-truth-consumers while waiting for the big scandal? The millionaire (one of the mentioned consumers), who glorifies his success in narcissistic idolatry? The associate professor and Dostoyevskian „idiot“ (Radu Beligan), who cares only about research? Or will it be the young girl attending the classes of our last character, the dreamy student who fell in love with Alexander the Great? Actually, on whose side will she stand, in the end? The reason triggering all these life paths to come to a crossroad will absolutely make you laugh. Meanwhile, enjoy glimpses of the long-regretted Bucharest-beauty, back when it still was the capital of a land of plenty.

If Bergman would have decided to do another comedy as good as his „Devil’s Eye“ („Djävulens öga”, 1960), he would have certainly chosen this story. Let’s not forget that he first discovered he could do comedies in the last scenes of „Secrets of Women“ („Kvinnors väntan”, 1952), three years before this feature. As for the way the film is shot, „Protar-Deal“ can at any time challenge the works of the Swedish master. Another common trait is the existentialist background, but more about this later. If the easiest thing to shoot is a horror, and – provided you have the means – a thriller or even a Tarkovskian epigone will be easy enough to make, with comedy, as a genre, things aren’t easy. Where do you find something which will still be ridiculous in the next tens and hundreds of years? You find it in the human being itself, in our menacing confusion and stupidity, in people fighting their own selves, instead of stepping beyond, and beyond. Comedies exploit the same source as art house films do.

Dipping into the „Protar-Deal“ (which, by the way, for Romanians sounds like a non-word, not even like a name) will feel just like a relaxed, detached gaze into the petty absurdity of life, then and now. The absurd is always petty, becoming notable only when one indulges into the excitement of getting scared by a scarecrow or by asking who its maker is. One has to have a lot of time, to come to such endeavours. It must be granted that the absurd hints towards that „something else“, which comes from outside of the routine. But so does love – authentic love. The „Protar-Deal“ reminds its viewer what this expression means, in a time when, not being approached properly, every amusement becomes boring, and sexuality seems to be the only escape (ending in finding out that there are no limits to perversion). In its footnotes, the film asks a central question: Why is someone love-worthy? And, lastly, there is the Odyssey-like voyage this film makes reference to, following the almost mythological traces of Alexander. Love is the solution in every world, love is the trigger of rationality. It links films as different as this one and Reha Erdem’s “Cosmos” (2010), making them become endlessly decipherable to every of their viewers, although being worlds apart.

Review by Paul Andrei Mucichescu

On a side note, detur la Preciziei wants to thank Paul for this “time warp”; for bringing to our attention and into present this forgotten Romanian “gem”.

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