We will commence our review of Nae Caranfil's piece not with a quote (usually serving as motto), but with a bunch of them. For starters, the poet:
Poetul: Titlu: poemul unei fete pe care am întâlnit-o în tramvaiul 44 și la care n-a mers vrăjeala.1
Poetul: Surâsul fetei din tramvai m-a fermecat definitiv. Am înc-o dramă la activ, exact ca domnul Ion Susai.2
Ovidiu: Cine-i domnul Ion Susai?3
Poetul: Un prieten de-al meu, nu-l ştii tu.4
For the first dish, Miruna:
Miruna: Dumneata ştii ce leafă are soţul meu?5
Ospătarul: Dar nu-i treaba mea, duduie...6
Miruna: Ştii că nu şi-a mai primit-o de două luni? Ştiţi că Ministerul Educaţiei şi Învăţământului nu mai plăteşte salariile profesorilor de când cu rectificarea bugetului? Ştiţi că se fac zece ani de când nu ne mai permitem să ieşim la un restaurant, din cauza unei politici criminale şi anticulturale care îşi bate joc de formarea tinerilor?7
For the main course, Pepe:
Pepe: Ce faceee?! Am ajuns să sponsorizez futaiuri?!8
Pepe: Cască bine ochii, ăsta-i orașul în care trăiești. (Deschide fereastra.)9
Pepe: De-aici se vede perfect, mai bine decât de pe Inter. Vezi câți nimeni trec pe stradă? Milioane de nimeni. Când ai venit la mine cu fața asta de nimeni în proză, ce mi-am zis eu? (Se oprește.) Miruna, cafeaua! (Continuă) Mi-am zis, băiatu' ăsta vrea să fie cineva! Băiatu' ăsta vrea să învețe o meserie. (Se oprește iar.) Mai vine dom'le cafeaua aia? (Închide fereastra.)10
Pepe: Există trei meserii de bază pe lumea asta: bogăția, sărăcia și sexul. Din oricare câștigi o pâine, da' din dragoste și din scris mori de foame, măi idiotule. Mori pe gratis.11
And finally, for dessert:
Recuperator 1: Robert Dobrovicescu, nu e prezent?12
Ovidiu: Nu, lipsește de câteva zile. De ce?13
Recuperator 1: Putem sta puțin de vorbă?14
Ovidiu: Numai o clipă. (Către clasă.) Sentimentul patriotic în poezia pașoptistă. Și lucrăm în liniște, s-a înțeles? (Către recuperatori.) Vă ascult.15
Recuperator 1: Avem o rugăminte la dumneata. Dacă în următoarele zile elevu' ăsta apare pe la cursuri, transmite-i un mesaj din partea noastră.16
Ovidiu: Din partea dumneavoastră... Adică...17
Recuperator 2: Nu contează. Zicem că l-a căutat doi cetățeni.18
Recuperator 1: Exact! Important e mesajul. Deci reține: baronu' e supărat rău de tot. Vrea plata în trei zile. Dacă băiatu' ăsta nu apare în trei zile cu banu-n dinți și scuze... Viața e complexă și are multe aspecte.19
Ovidiu: N-am înțeles nimic.20
Recuperator 2: (Către recuperator 1). N-a înțeles nimic.21
Recuperator 1: Rându' tău.22
Recuperator 2: Domnule, băiatu' ăsta a bușit o mașină nou-nouță care nu era a lui. Domnu' a cui era mașina e foarte supărat.23
Recuperator 1: Foarte supărat, ăsta e mesaju'.24
Recuperator 2: Dânsul vrea banu' pe stricăciuni, și ne-a rugat pe noi să vorbim cu băiatu' și să-l convingem. Dacă băiatu' nu-nțelege de vorbă bună, poate să se ducă și la Vladivostok, noi tot îl găsim. Și-atunci e mai rău.25
Ovidiu: Câți bani datorează?26
Recuperator 1: Știe el. Important e să se gândească foarte bine că... viața e complexă și are multe aspecte. E băiat tânăr și ar fi păcat de el să ajungă, Doamne ferește, infirm pe viață...27
Recuperator 2: Sau chiar mai rău.28
Recuperator 1: Doamne ferește.29
Ovidiu: Totuși, despre ce sumă e vorba?30
Recuperator 2: Trei mii de parai...31
Recuperator 1: Nu suma contează... (Zâmbind.) Gestul.32
Recuperator 2: (Se ridică brusc și se întoarce la clasă.) Băi! Gata! Primu' care respiră ia o boabă între ochi! Păi ce, ce-i aici, ne batem joc de școală? Toată lumea scrie compunerea!33
Recuperator 1: Apropo, pe matale cine te-a aranjat așa?34
Recuperator 1: (Scoțând o carte de vizită.) Nu, că dacă te-a aranjat unul și ai boală pe el, ți-l facem ieftin.36
Recuperator 2: (Către clasă.) Poate prind pe vreunul că încearcă să copieze.37
Now that we've briefly introduced the characters, we can begin discussing.
Ovidiu is, as correctly pointed out above, a dork, by virtue of him being played by everyone else. A dork, yet a competent one, who carries his role properly and to the very end, like the little boy he is. Yes, we've been clearly shown that he's to submit to Mother State and suck it hard, only the movie taking place in the early twenty-first century -- more than ten years after some historical heads falling -- gives him the chance to submit to actual people.
Speaking of which, Pepe is the only man there (save for the recuperatori, maybe) trying to do an honest business. He finds a market, i.e. tear-jerking slash begging, and exploits it in the most effective way possible, turning the whole thing into art: he brings the tear-jerking on television, where all the "uniques" are "targeted", from which maybe a meager one percent actually donate, which in fact amounts to quite a few bucks fo' nothing, as the song says. A, purely fictional, you say? You poor little thing.
As such, early 2000s Romania is depicted surprisingly accurately. For one, there's the beggar ring operating near the Bucharestian "Gara de Nord", in that little park where yes, you don't want to be after it gets dark. Then there's the fact that said rings are run by gangs that work exactly as shown, with turf that you don't want to cross unless you're one of them; and if you want, or are forced to become one of them, then get on your knees, open your mouth, etc. as per the drill.
Then there's the overall social situation in Romania. As the old man points out above, there are three categories of people: the poor, the businessmen and the whores. The poors may be beggars, they may live on welfare (so: beggars) or they may live on pension after a life's work (so: beggars), but either way they're poor. The whores work for the businessmen, while the businessmen are practically speaking the only ones who have capital and are willing to pay anything for anything. And then there's the intellectually poor, who fall for the scam, because "dar din dar se face rai".
Then finally, the public tear-jerking circus known as television and the so-called "educational system" speak volumes about the future (now-present and still-yet-to-come). You see, one day a guy made a media outlet, and it worked towards the integration of Romanians in today's horseblinding cacophony. Meanwhile, Romanians purposefully sabotaged their schools to the point of "they dun use that fo' nothing anyway", so that yes, ne batem joc de școală! Anyway, there's this (television) mixed up with that (school) in a recipe that, how did it go? "a sesizat existența contradicțiilor antagonice din sânul societății capitaliste".
Worth mentioning are also Nicolescu's briefly shown tits, Diaconu's spot-on acting and Dinică's absolutely splendid performance. I don't know if Pepe is his best role, but it's certainly tons better than that other thing I reviewed. We get to see no other notable pieces of acting: Călinescu's doing his thing, but otherwise, all actors are mediocre at best, including Vodă, whose only merit is that of being the main protagonist of the "American Beauty" trope, only this time in Romanian.
Otherwise, the movie ends on a slightly dystopian, almost surrealistic note. But instead of examining this, let's do one of the best scenes ever:
Pepe: (Cântă. Apoi, către Ovidiu.) Da' ce credeai tu că sunt eu, mă, supă populară? (Continuă să cânte.)38
Piedone: (Râzând, către Pepe.) E puișor încă, nu știe cum e mersul.39
Pepe: Noțiunea de drepturi de autor nu-ți spune nimic? (În jur, lumea râde.)40
Ovidiu: Dar când mi-ați cerut să fac circ la televiziune, puneați altfel problema.41
Pepe: Posibil. Și tu când ai venit prima oară la mine aveai pretenții mai modeste -- (către orchestră:) băieți! Am muncit și nopți. (Cântă.) Păi și-am muncit și nopți, păi și-am muncit și zile! (Către Ovidiu.) Hai mă, nu face botic, bea și tu ceva, hai.42
Ovidiu: Dacă mă duc la poliție și povestesc tot?43
Pepe: (Către orchestră.) Ia mai sotto băieți. (Râzând, către Ovidiu.) Ce spui, mă?44
Piedone: E puișor, nu știe săracu'.45
Pepe: Decât să ne certăm, hai mai bine un cântec vesel să cântăm. Bagă! (Cântă.) Și-am muncit și nopți, și-am muncit și zile! Pentru tine draga mea, ca să te simți bine!46
Ovidiu: Dați-mi trei mii de dolari cu împrumut.47
Pepe: (Face semn către orchestră.) Trei mii de dolari? Așa îmi ceri tu mie trei mii de dolari, după câte te-am învățat?... Dați-mi...48
Ovidiu: Vă rog, am nevoie.49
Pepe: (Către ceilalți, ironic.) Are nevoie. (Către Ovidiu.) Te las corigent, domnule profesor! Pune mâna și revezi materia din urmă. Vino la mine și impresionează-mă, emoționează-mă, stoarce-mi o lacrimă... vorbește-mi de săraca fetiță cu chibrituri pe care vrei s-o ajuți -- ce-i lipsește ei? O blăniță, un apartamențel -- (Ovidiu părăsește scena. Pepe se întoarce către Ovidiu, strigând.) Mâna întinsă care nu spune o poveste nu primește pomană! Fii profesionist, ce dracu'!50
"Title: the poem of a girl that I met in the 44 tramway and for whom the cajolery* didn't work."
*: To the Romanian speakers out there: how would you translate "vrăjeală" into English?↩
"The tramway girl possessed a smile that got me positively stunned. It's the nth time that I got bummed, exactly like Mr. John Lyle*."
*: A very scrupulous, almost pedantic, though well-meaning reader comments:
LordMPofTMSR: spyked, your filantropica review is terrible for failing to point out the ion susai - mihaita dragomirescu link, and general unawareness of the dramaz there.
LordMPofTMSR: i thought you were from the shithole anyway, never encountered the item ? town's legendaria, exactly http://trilema.com/2012/tibi-nebunu-zorilor-represent/ sorta thing.
spyked: LordMPofTMSR, I had no idea. and looking for mihaita dragomirescu, all I found was news items a la http://archive.is/ojKnE and other cancans. if ye know for a fact this is not made-up scandal, then I believe, but otherwise... eh.
So it turns out the thing was indeed a made-up scandal:
mircea_popescu: spyked, there was some dumb bitch whose name i forget "tryina make it in dis biznis" that fell for it and put him in studio for one of their inane talkshow as if genuine article. he certainly wasn't a "great director from braila" etc. however, he was in fact a) busking and b) coming up with lulzy shit, quite in the vein of "surisul fetei din tramvai". and the "you can't possibly know him" bit is asking for it -- i'd not have said anything otherwise, but caranfil or no caranfil -- wantsome, getsome!
So at least we now know who Ion Susai was. If you want to see more of these weirdos in action, then sure, come to Bucharest, it's full of them. Or don't; watch Filantropica instead, it's a great documentary.
Now for the bonus:
mircea_popescu: spyked, apparently you have no comments ? anyway, "the smiling girl i saw today bewitched my soul entirely ; another line goes in a diary that's read by me, and Mr. Sorrowly."
mircea_popescu: (and no, it's not good. it may shock in the sense of "omfg, i had no expectation anything can be done", but good it can't be, because romanian is a highly cultured language, and when you say "tramvai" ie "tramcar" you don't merely say that, but also include by reference "aiurea-n tramvai", which is a typically romanian construction, and susai-s not merely Sonchus arvensis but also all the references in all the "new realism" commie novels as to the hardness of rural life, and so going forever, everything is a list of include-by-reference fifty items long.)
mircea_popescu: also, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hkjo-p_bXU
I like my version better, but I'm probably just being superficial.↩
"Who's Mr. John Lyle?"↩
"A friend of mine, you don't know him."↩
"Do you sir know what salary my husband has?"
By the by, "dumneata" is more or less untranslatable to English, mostly due to the destination language lacking proper modes of addressing. Anyway, you gotta understand that the reply above is uttered in a slightly passive aggressive tone.↩
"That's none of my business, ma'am..."
Same as the previous note.↩
"Do you know that he hasn't received it for the last two months? Do you now that the Ministry of Education and Teaching isn't paying the salaries of teachers since the budget rectification? Do you know that it's almost ten years since we can no longer afford to get out to a restaurant, because of a criminal and anticultural policy which makes a mockery out of forming young people?"↩
"Say what?! So now I'm to sponsor fucks?!"↩
"Open your eyes well, this is the town you're living in." (Opens window.)↩
"The view here is perfect, better than Inter*. See how many nobodies cross this street? Millions of nobodies? When you came to me with this nobody-in-prose face, what did I say?" (Stops.) "Miruna, coffee!" (Continues.) "I said to myself, this boy wants to be someone! This boy wants to learn a trade." (Stops again.) "Where's that damn cofffee?" (Closes window.)
*: Intercontinental, one of the biggest hotels, and at the time one of the tallest buildings in ye olde Bucharest.↩
There are three basic trades in this world: wealth, poverty and sex. Any of them earns you a bread, but from love and writing, you die of hunger, you idiot. You die for free.↩
"Robert Dobrovnicescu, is he not here?"↩
"No, he's been out for a few days. Why?"↩
"Can we speak a little?"↩
"A moment" (To the class.) "The patriotic sentiment in fortyeightist* poetry. And we work quietly, mkay?" (To the collectors.) "I'm listening."
*: "Pașopt" refers to a political current of the Romanian '48 generation, a sort of Generation X of not the twentieth century, as you might expect, but actually the nineteenth. It was supported by lots of derps and was derided (if not outright opposed) by a few notable names of the time, such as Caragiale, Eminescu and Maiorescu. And just in case you're wondering, the pașoptist reference in the movie is indeed a satire of the self-imagined rebellious 2000 high-schooler generation.↩
"We have favour to ask of you. If in the next days this student comes to class, send him a message from us."↩
"From you... meaning..."↩
"It doesn't matter. Say two citizens were looking for him."↩
"Exactly! The message is important. So here: the baron is really upset. He wants the payment in three days. If this boy doesn't appear in three days with money in his mouth* and apologies... Life is complex and has many aspects.**"
*: I suspect this has nothing to do with the English expression, but it does fit the situation rather well.
**: I'm not sure you comprehend the depth of this saying. Life is complex and has many aspects, i.e. there is much to it, i.e. there are a lot of unforeseen things that can happen. I have no fuckin' idea whether one would expect the average Irish to say something along those lines, but this is a perfectly plausible thing to say for a Basarabean, or for any Romanian nobody who abides by popular wisdom. Nobody, and yet he knows and never forgets! that life is complex and has many aspects.↩
"I don't understand."↩
"He doesn't understand."↩
"Sir, this boy crashed a brand new car that wasn't his. The sir whose car it was is very upset."↩
"Very upset, that's the message."↩
"He wants the money for the damage and he asked us to talk to the boy and convince him. If boy doesn't listen*, he can go to Vladivostok, we're still going to find him. And then it gets worse."
*: The reader might have a better translation for this "înțelege de vorbă bună" thing. It denotes both understanding and acting on that understanding, in contrast to understanding and not giving a fuck.↩
"How much does he owe?"↩
"He knows. More importantly, he needs to think well, because... life is complex and has many aspects. He's a young boy and it would be a pity for him to become, God forbid, a cripple for life..."↩
"Or even worse."↩
"Still, what sum does he owe?"↩
"It's not the sum..." (Smiling.) "It's the gesture."↩
(Gets up suddenly and turns to class.) "Hey! Enough! The first one who breathes gets a bullet between the eyes! What's this, we're making a mockery of school? Everyone write the composition!"↩
"By the way, who gave you the bruise?"↩
(Pulling out a business card.) "No, 'cause if anyone messed with you and you have a dread on them*, we'll do him in for you cheap."
*: Let's deconstruct this. "Ai" is from "a avea", i.e. "to have". "Boală" literally means "illness". Thus the expression denotes feelings of deep (sickening) hatred for someone, like that one time in band camp when that guy stole your girlfriend. Anyway, "dread" is the closest I could find to this, although it's not sufficiently antagonistic to describe the thing.↩
(To class.) "If I see anyone trying to cheat..."↩
(Singing. Then, to Ovidiu.) "Well, what did you think I was then, popular soup?"↩
(Laughing, to Pepe.) "He's still a kid, doesn't know how things go."↩
"But you put it differently when you asked me to make a circus at the TV."↩
"Maybe. And when you first came to me you had more modest ambitions. --" (to the orchestra:) "boys! And I worked the nights." (Singing.) "And I worked the nights, and I worked the days!" (To Ovidiu.) "C'mon there, don't get upset, have a drink. Come on."↩
"What if I go to the police and tell them everything?"↩
(To the orchestra.) "Keep it low, boys." (Laughing, to Ovidiu.) "What the fuck are you saying?*"
*: A very condescending "what", as connoted by the interjection "mă", which... I have no idea how to express outside Romanian, so I'll let the cunning linguists handle it.↩
"He's a poor noob, doesn't know..."↩
"Instead of arguing, we're better off singing a happy song. Turn it up, boys!" (Singing.) "And I worked the nights, and I worked the days! All for you my dear, so you get your way!"↩
"Lend me three thousand dollars."↩
(Makes a sign to the orchestra.) "Three thousand dollars? That's how you ask me for three thousand bucks, after all I've taught you?... Lend me..."↩
"Please, I need it."↩
(To the audience, sarcastically.) "He needs it." (To Ovidiu.) "I am failing you, professor! Get to work* and review the previous subjects. Come to me and impress me, move me, squeeze a tear out of me... tell me of the poor little girl with the matchsticks that you want to help -- what is she lacking? A little fur, an apartment** --" (Ovidiu leaves the stage. Pepe turns towards Ovidiu, shouting.) "Stretched hand that doesn't tell a story doesn't get dole! Be a professional, what the devil!"
*: Literally, put one's hand (at work) towards some goal.
**: What is the (modern) English diminutive of apartment? In Romanian almost any noun can be "diminuated" by suffixing it with "-iță"/"-uță"/"-ucă" (e.g. cărniță, scufiță, lăbuță, mămucă), "-el" (cățel, purcel, suflețel) or other diminutival forms.↩