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‘Three Kilometers to the End of the World’ Review: Homophobia Drama

‘Three Kilometers to the End of the World’ Review: Homophobia Drama

The Cannes competition line-up has premiered some outstanding Romanian films over the last 20 years, works on the very foamy, frothy edge of the Romanian New Wave. But this year’s talky, ensemble-driven neo-realist entrant, Three Kilometers to the End of the World, isn’t on the same level as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

Still, actor-turned-director Emanuel Parvu (Meda or The Not So Bright Side of Things) has fashioned the kind of competent if predictable drama that will tick the right boxes for festival regulars hungry for work that affirms their prejudices against bigoted hicks in all the fly-over countries of the world. A drama about a vicious beating that ends up turning over rocks that hide corruption and cruelty, Three Kilometers at least wrings maximum benefit from its beautiful Danube Delta location, a sun-dappled marshland full of whispering reeds fringed by unspoiled beaches. If it weren’t for the grimness of what happens in the story, this would do wonders for local tourism.

Three Kilometers to the End of the World

The Bottom Line

Runs out of road fast.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Bogdan Dumitrache, Ciprian Chiujdea, Laura Vasiliu, Valeriu Andriuta, Ingrid Micu-Berescu, Adrian Titieni, Richard Bovnoczki
Director: Emanuel Parvu
Screenwriters: Emanuel Parvu, Miruna Berescu

1 hour 44 minutes

Indeed, a visit from a tourist sets the whole chain of events in motion. The opening long shot is of two young men walking across a deserted beach at sunset, a beautifully color-balanced picture-postcard image that looks like it came straight out of a travel brochure. But the landscape’s loveliness and the willingness of the locals to be friendly to strangers (everyone we meet is dependent on the tourism industry in one way or another) belies deep prejudices and barely contained violence. When we meet the two men at closer range, it transpires that one is a 17-year-old local, Adi (Ciprian Chiujdea), and the other an unnamed visitor from Bucharest (Vlad Crudu), who tenderly sucks a thorn out of Adi’s hand.

An abrupt cut observes Adi returning home, his handsome face mangled with bruises, cuts and swellings and his body covered in more bruises. Someone beat him up, and he’s initially taciturn about revealing the details. His father Florin (Bogdan Dumitrache, one of Romania’s bigger stars), a fisherman who hopes one day Adi will take over the family business, insists on taking his only child to the police, and fears that Adi was attacked as a warning by underlings of café-owner/gangster Zentov (Richard Bovnoczki), to whom Florin owes money.

Turns out he’s sort of right but also sort of wrong. Zentov’s young adult sons eventually casually confess to the local police chief (Valeriu Andriuta) that yeah, they beat up Adi but not because of Florin’s debt. They did it because they saw him kissing the tourist. It was a straight-up homophobic attack, and the way the policeman, Zentov and even Florin discuss the matter makes it clear they might have done the same thing themselves if they weren’t just a little older and out of shape. The cop even goes off on a horrifying yet weirdly comical rant about how if they let it get out that the island is tolerant of gays, they’ll soon be overrun with them having sex in the street and taking drugs. He wonders, while talking to a stricken Florin, if Adi was vaccinated against COVID, suggesting that may have turned the lad gay.

Poor Adi is compelled to come out suddenly to his ultra-straight, deeply religious mother (Laura Vasiliu, who played the pregnant girl in 4 Months) as well as Florin, confirming that he did kiss the tourist. That’s traumatic enough, but things get even worse when Adi’s parents enlist the local priest (Adrian Titieni) to perform a quasi-exorcism over Adi, whom they hogtie and muzzle so he can’t get away. It’s one of the film’s most excruciating scenes, made more disturbing by a sound mix of moaning, mumbled religious nonsense and pretty tinkling bells rung by the priest’s suspiciously attractive and compliant deacon. Later, the priest will deny that it was an exorcism; those have to be cleared through the bishopric first. This was just praying, and tying Adi up is no worse than restraining a child so you can give them a shot, he argues later.

Viewers who’ve seen Beyond the Hills, Cristian Mungiu’s wrenching drama in which exorcism is also used to “cure’ homosexuality” (in that film on a young lesbian), will instantly be afeared that it’s going to go horribly wrong for poor Adi. It’s a relief that the worst doesn’t come to pass, and it would be perverse to wish otherwise. But still, the ending is a bit flat and anti-climactic. Parvu and his co-screenwriter Miruna Berescu, also the film’s producer, build up a fairly interesting ensemble of supporting characters, including a local B&B landlady (Crina Semciuc) who never takes visitor details because she doesn’t want to pay tax, and Adi’s best friend on the island (Ingrid Micu-Berescu), who may be a little in love with him in a teenage-crush way. But having gotten all these chess pieces on the board, the strategy doesn’t deploy them in any fancy gambits. It’s a quick checkmate and stop the clock.  

Full credits

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Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Bogdan Dumitrache, Ciprian Chiujdea, Laura Vasiliu, Valeriu Andriuta, Ingrid Micu-Berescu, Adrian Titieni, Richard Bovnoczki, Vlad Brumaru, Alina Berzunteanu, Radu Gabriel, Costel Zamfir, Vlad Crudu, Daniela Vitcu, Miruna Soare, Bogdan Tulbure, Vlad Ionut Popescu, Crina Semciuc
Production companies: Famart Association
Director: Emanuel Parvu
Screenwriters: Emanuel Parvu, Miruna Berescu
Producers: Miruna Berescu
Director of photography: Silviu Stavila
Production designer/costume designer: Bodgan Ionescu
Editor: Mircea Olteanu
Sound: Mirel Cristea
Casting: Bianca Anastasiu
Sales: Goodfellas

1 hour 44 minutes

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